Manchester City 0 Barcelona 2. A second goal on 90 minutes from Dani Alves was not the most memorable moment of this clash, which will be remembered for a red card and a penalty, but it all but eliminated Manchester City from the Champions League on a night when Manuel Pellegrini accused referee of Jonas Eriksson of being the most influential man on the pitch.
The Swedish official had earlier sent off City defender Martin Demichelis for a second-half challenge on Lionel Messi and from the resultant penalty the Argentine forward put Barcelona one up. That deficit might have been manageable for the City when they travel to the Camp Nou for the second leg on 12 March, but then on the stroke of full-time Alves doubled the visitors' advantage to leave the Sky Blues staring into the abyss.
It was all too much for Pellegrini, who confronted Eriksson at the end of the game and later tore into him during the post-match press conference. "It was just to tell him he decided the game," replied the Chilean when asked what he'd said to the Swedish official. "I was not happy... he did not have any control of the game. He favoured Barcelona from the beginning to the end. I think it was not a good idea to put a referee from Sweden in charge and a referee who made a mistake against Barcelona in the group stages."
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Pellegrini was referring to a Champions League quarter-final two years ago at the San Siro between Barcelona and Inter Milan. The tie ended goalless with Barca's then coach, Pep Guardiola, left fuming about two penalties that he believed Eriksson should have awarded his team.
According to The Guardian, when Pellegrini was asked if he believed Eriksson was compensating for that night at the San Siro, Pellegrini said: "Yes", adding: "This referee whistled the Barcelona-Milan game and he made an important error against Barcelona. Today he remedied it... the referee from the beginning did not give a good impression. There was a penalty, we had one player less but the team played with courage."
Pellegrini is likely to have his collar felt by Uefa after his inflammatory remarks not least because European's governing body is conscious that this is not the first time officials have been accused of favouring Barcelona in crucial ties. Arsenal, Chelsea and AC Milan have all felt hard done by in recent seasons playing Barcelona with Jose Mourinho going so far in 2011 to accuse Uefa of a "conspiracy to help Barcelona to win the Champions League".
On that occasion Mourinho – then in charge at Real Madrid – was handed a five-match ban by Uefa and Pellegrini can expect something similar when, as seems inevitable, he is called to account for his comments.
In the cold light of day Pellegrini, who claimed his side had matched Barcelona stride for stride, might regret his comments. It was a red-card tackle from the moment Demichelis launched himself at Messi, who was clean through on goal. Though television replays appeared to show that the initial contact was a fraction outside the area, to the naked eye it looked a clear penalty.
City also claimed that before the penalty Jesus Navas had been fouled by Sergio Busquets, but replays showed questionable contact between the pair.
Despite the size of the task awaiting them at the Camp Nou, City captain Vincent Kompany is confident they can turn things around in three weeks and dismissed suggestions that Barcelona were the better team with or without the extra man. "By no means we thought they were superior," he said. "If the tempo was greater in this game it would have been to our advantage. If the game is the same as today, and we manage to stay away from some fouls, we have got a chance."
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