Much Maligned Gerard Pique And Luis Suarez Step Up For Barcelona At Crucial Time
|Andreas Vou Twitter: @AndreasVou89|
Barcelona took a big step towards the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 1-2 win against Manchester City, and the heroes of the night were two players who have received their fair share of criticism in recent times.
Clinical at one end, solid at the other – two well taken goals by Luis Suarez in the first half handed Luis Enrique’s side a valuable cushion while a stalwart performance from Gerard Pique at the back ensured Barça took an important lead back to the Catalan capital.
Suarez has not quite got off to the start most people expected at Barcelona. With just four league goals in 15 matches, much has been made of the Uruguayan’s shortfalls in front of goal this campaign especially after a hefty €81 million transfer fee.
2 – Luis Suarez scored a brace vs Joe Hart, after doing the same for Uruguay vs England in the last World Cup. Dejavù pic.twitter.com/iEaWBcUuDK
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 24, 2015
Performances had been steadily improving since the turn of the year and it seemed only a matter of time before the former Liverpool striker would start finding the net, and he was to save his best showing for one of the biggest tests of the campaign.
Lionel Messi’s cross into the box bounced off the back of City captain Vincent Kompany which fell kindly to Suarez who took full advantage with a driven left foot shot which found the bottom corner on 16 minutes.
The last time Suarez faced Joe Hart was in the World Cup for Uruguay against where he scored twice in a 2-1 win for his side, and history would repeat itself.
On the half-hour mark, good work again from Messi was followed by a low cross from Jordi Alba which was met by Suarez who doubled his and Barça’s tally on his return to England. The responsibility was now on the Barça defense to keep the back door shut.
As they did last season, Manuel Pellegrini’s team seemed to afford too much respect to Barcelona in the first half as the away side picked them off with ease. A resurgent City emerged from the changing rooms for the second period and brought life back into the tie but found a stubborn Gerard Pique blocking their path on almost every occasion.
In the opening eleven matches of the season, Pique was left out of the starting lineup on five of the ten occasions of which he was available.
There were few complaints either from fans and media alike as his decline in form over the previous 12 months had been evident. Giving away a penalty in the season’s first clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu would hardly endear himself anymore to the new boss but his performances have drastically improved since that day and his showing at the Etihad was one which brought flashbacks of the Pique of years gone by.
His flawless displays under Pep Guardiola led him to being dubbed ‘Piquenbauer’ in reference to the legendary German defender Franz Beckenbauer and, after an expertly timed tackle on Edin Dzeko on the edge of the box in the first half, chants of his nickname would pour out from the away end of the ground.
As City fought to get back into the game, Sergio Aguero raced beyond an over-eager Javier Mascherano to leave a three-on-two situation. The Argentine had two teammates rushing into the box and his attempted cross would have handed either player a simple goal yet a heroic outstretched leg from Pique denied the attempt.
Pique would be helpless to stop Aguero moments later as the striker narrowed the deficit with a well-taken goal but the Catalan defender’s display prevented what would have been an unjust draw.
8 – The keeper dived left in the last eight Leo Messi penalties saved by a keeper in all competitions. Intuition pic.twitter.com/XYzngURsRH
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 24, 2015
After all, Barcelona were superior for most parts of the game. It was a stark contrast to the performance in the home defeat to Malaga at the weekend – City’s lack of intensity played a part but the accuracy of Barcelona’s passing, slickness of their movement and urgency of their pressing was to be admired.
The reigning Premier League champions were helpless against the mesmeric football of their opponents and the tie could have been put beyond any reasonable doubt in the very last seconds of the game when Pablo Zabaleta brought down Messi inside the box.
Messi, however, saw his penalty saved by Hart and then steered his headed rebound just wide of the post to leave a bitter taste in an otherwise complete performance from Barcelona.
Messi is usually the one who grabs all the headlines but, this time, Barça’s important victory was largely due to the brilliant displays of Suarez and Pique.