Barcelona have put one foot into the quarter-finals of the Champions League courtesy of a 2-1 victory over 10-man Manchester City in the first leg of their last-16 clash on Tuesday.
Luis Suarez netted a first-half brace on his return to England, while Sergio Aguero’s response after the break was not enough to deny Barca a lead to take back to the Camp Nou.
Suarez was the main antagonist in the first half, rippling the side-netting with an effort before opening his account with a sharp finish in the bottom corner after the ball had fallen kindly to him inside the box.
Joe Hart was merely delaying the inevitable, however, and Suarez doubled his personal tally for the night on the half-hour mark when he slid in to divert Jordi Alba’s cross home following patient build-up play from the Spanish giants.
The woodwork then came to their rescue on the stroke of half time as Dani Alves raced down the right flank before lofting an effort over Hart, only to see it bounce off the top of the crossbar and behind.
City’s first threatening moment came right at the end of the half when Samir Nasri tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and that proved to be a sign of things to come as the hosts emerged fighting from the interval.
Nasri came close in the opening minutes of the half before Edin Dzeko squandered a glorious opening by heading the ball straight at the keeper from close range when unmarked.
Aguero then looked to take matters into his own hands when he turned a drove past two defenders, but his curling effort ended up a yard or so past the far post.
The City talisman did hand the hosts a lifeline with just over 20 minutes remaining, though, bursting on to David Silva’s flick inside the box before picking out the top corner with a composed finish to halve the deficit.
City’s hopes of launching a comeback were dealt a blow shortly afterwards, however, as Gael Clichy was shown a second yellow card for a high challenge on Alves.
Barcelona resumed control of the match after that and almost added a third away goal when Messi’s effort was flicked over the top by Hart.
Messi had a glorious chance to grab a late third in stoppage time when he won a penalty following a sliding challenge from Pablo Zabaleta, but the Argentine saw his spot kick saved before skewing a diving header wide from the rebound.
City must now score at least twice when the two sides meet for the second leg at the Camp Nou next month