Manchester City’s hopes of advancing deeper into Europe were left hanging in the balance after being viciously dismantled by Barcelona in the first leg of their Women’s Champions League quarter-final, losing 3-0 to goals from Asisat Oshoala, Mariona Caldentey and Jenni Hermoso.
In a match moved from Barcelona to the Stadio Brianteo in Monza, Italy, because of Covid-19 restrictions, the importance of the encounter was clear. Over their past two Champions League campaigns, Manchester City have been beaten by Atlético Madrid in the knockout stages. This year they returned to face the new Spanish champions fortified by the talents of players such as Sam Mewis, Chloe Kelly, Lucy Bronze and the hope of more.
This marked perhaps an even greater challenge for City than the two Atlético ties. Barcelona have spent this season tearing the Primera División apart with 20 wins in 20 league games, 99 goals scored and only three conceded. The Barcelona bench alone was evidence of their vast depth and ability, with the talents of Kheira Hamraoui, Lieke Martens and Hernoso, the joint Champions League top scorer, unable to make the starting XI.
They demonstrated their quality from the beginning. While Manchester City were wasteful, frequently giving the ball away under close examination from the Barcelona press and struggling to escape their own half, the “home” team suffocated their opponents with the quality of their possession. The devastation wreaked on the right flank by Caroline Graham Hansen and Marta Torrejón was particularly severe.
While it took City 25 minutes to move deep into the opposition half and generate their first chance, they were kept in the game only by a supreme performance from the goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck, who pulled off a trio of saves early on to keep the away side level and then continued to limit the deficit throughout.
But after missing the first clear opportunity of the game, Oshoala was presented with a far more complicated chance and she responded with an effortless demonstration of her technical prowess. After City failed to clear a free-kick from the penalty area, Oshoala picked up the ball at the edge of the box and slotted a delightful low finish to the left, which clipped the inside of a post on its way into the net.
City entered the second half with the solace of Roebuck’s performance keeping them in the game and also the knowledge that in the few times they had forayed into Barcelona’s half, they created opportunities effectively.
But the waves of blaugrana shirts continued and eventually it was all too much. After an excellent last-ditch tackle from Demi Stokes to deny Hansen, who was through on goal, Oshoala picked up the ball in the box. Stokes brought Oshoala down with a wild swing of her foot and Caldentey coolly slotted the ensuing penalty into the right corner.
Perhaps the tipping point of the tie occurred minutes later as City responded to the second goal well, with Lauren Hemp driving into the box from the left before winning a penalty from a foul by María Pilar León. Chloe Kelly struck her penalty hard but it was too central and Sandra Paños saved it.
Manchester City continued to move forward and enjoyed their best spell after falling down two goals down, but they were wasteful and Barcelona eventually put the match to bed with one final delightful goal. After lovely buildup play from all, Hermoso fed Alexia Putellas inside the box with a slick through ball. When the first shot struck a post, Hermoso coolly slotted the rebound into the net.
It was Barcelona’s 120th goal in all competitions this season. They have conceded only six. Whether at home, away or a random stadium in Italy, there are likely more wins to come.