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Vincent Kompany: "Barcelona are not the best team we've played this season."
Roy Keane: "He's obviously tired. Not sure he knows what he's talking about."
Keane looked awfully smug with his terribly clever answer but perhaps he was the one who was tired - too tired to remember that Manchester City had been schooled by a Bayern Munich side who had 21 shots at the Etihad in October and deserved even more than their comprehensive 3-1 win. This was what Nick Miller wrote on this site on that night: 'Bayern Munich simply outclassed Manchester City. They were just better in almost every aspect of the game. It is sometimes pointless to criticise the losers when the winners are simply this good.'
Could you say that about Barcelona's 2-0 win? Not a chance. City were not outclassed by Barcelona; on the contrary, they more than matched them until Martín Demichelis became the fall guy for Vincent Kompany failing to keep City's defensive line and leaving Lionel Messi to run free on goal. There will be thousands of largely dull words written about the wisdom of spending millions and still ending up with Demichelis in your defence but the fact is that the Argentine had been excellent along with the rest of an incredibly disciplined City side until that moment. And just about every centre-half in football would feel oddly compelled to make that challenge even with the double jeopardy of penalty and red card.
Yes, City sat back and invited Barcelona to keep the ball in the opening 20 minutes, but at the end of that 20 minutes it was still the home side who had looked most dangerous, with a drive from Yaya Toure and a through ball from the exquisite David Silva showing that Barcelona could be vulnerable to counter-attack. Barcelona did not even muster a shot in the opening half-hour of a game they were 'dominating'. By the time that first off-target shot was registered, City had left the safety of the 18-yard line and were matching Barcelona for intent. They were defending diligently, closing down quickly in midfield (the importance of Fernandinho to this City side cannot be exaggerated), passing crisply and finding Silva in the space between Barcelona's defence and midfield.
Tata Martino admitted after the game that Barcelona 'lost control' for periods of the game. That's not because - as Jose Mourinho would have you believe - this is a poor Barcelona side, but because City made them lose control with quick pressing and equally quick passing. They were scared of Silva, they were frustrated by Fernandinho and Yaya Toure and, for a while there, they were confounded by Demichelis looking like an excellent centre-half. Even after the Argentine had left the pitch, it was Víctor Valdés rather than Joe Hart who had to make a crucial save to keep the score at 1-0.
Had it stayed at 1-0, you would have given a City side, boosted by the return to fitness of Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri, half a chance of overturning that deficit in Spain, with Barcelona clearly rattled by the physicality of Toure and the guile of Silva. At 2-0 that chance has pretty much disappeared. But City as a force in European football will not disappear with their almost-inevitable exit in the Nou Camp, for this City side - under an astute manager who learned from his mistakes against Bayern Munich and Chelsea and will surely learn from this one against Barcelona - has arrived on the European stage.
You may argue that City should have arrived on the European stage a few million quid ago, but that argument is utterly irrelevant because it is now a fait accompli. On Tuesday night at the Etihad - in their very first Champions League knock-out game - they took on Barcelona and came out disappointed with and possibly undeserving of a 2-0 defeat against the best club side of the last seven or eight years. They looked far from uncomfortable in such exalted company; they may have only recently arrived at this particular party but they will not be leaving any time soon.