Pellegrini punished for suicidal Demichelis selection

Manchester City are staring Champions League elimination in the face after rash tackle from their experienced centre half turned the tide in Barcelona's favour
By Jonathan Birchall at Etihad Stadium

A red card, a tie transformed and for Manchester City, that wretched feeling of what might have been. On a night to make history for Manuel Pellegrini's side, it only ended grimly repeating.

It was three years ago, deep inside the Etihad Stadium outside the changing rooms after City's last European knockout tie at this ground. Nigel de Jong puffed his cheeks out, looked down at the floor and told us what we already knew. Mario Balotelli's sending off against Dynamo Kiev, the red card that changed the game, had cost his side. He had let his team down. City were out of Europe and the anger was barely contained.

And so it goes again. This time Martin Demichelis, the Argentine whose selection drew furrowed brows before kick off and shakes of the head come full time. The 33-year-old, whose 53rd minute hack on compatriot Lionel Messi gave Barcelona the penalty they needed to open to scoring, had cost his side.

66/1 Man City are 66/1 with Bet365 to win the Champions League
Sympathy may be short in coming for Demichelis but his wasn't a moment of madness or petty frustration. The challenge, trying to stop the unstoppable Barca man, was borne of desperation. Messi was away, advancing towards an almost inevitable opener and a goal that would completely change the complexion of a tie which was hitherto in the balance. The most painful thing was that we could all see it coming.

For a defender who unlike some in his squad has already played at this level, the former Malaga man started nervously. Alongside Vincent Kompany, he gave the ball away under early pressure from the suffocating, relentless Catalans but as City sat deep he was safe. A wall they couldn't pass.

Therein lies the trouble with walls - they do not tend to be particularly quick. Demichelis, with the turning circle of bricks and mortar, was always susceptible to a break of pace and typically, it was Messi who delivered it. Ruthlessly.

To play the Argentine ahead of Joleon Lescott tacitly suggested that Pellegrini was playing it relatively safe. Sit, wait and break to devastating effect, rather than build from the back and to a point it had worked. Barcelona took over half an hour to get a shot away but the feeling remained that they would eventually find a way through. They always do.

Pellegrini has no doubt been unlucky in losing the mobile, powerful and incredibly promising Matija Nastasic to injury but it undoubtedly proved his squad's weakest position was shown for what it was when it mattered most, with the eyes of the world watching on. Blame can't be totally apportioned to Demichelis. It was City's manager who simply left the grenade and hoped that Barcelona wouldn't pull the pin.

"They were there for the taking" was the party line come full-time. From one dejected City fan walking out of the ground past the assembled media to Vincent Kompany talking in front of the cameras, they knew they were close at times tonight. They knew this was an opportunity missed. This was no humiliation like the 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in October but now it matters so much more.

City will travel to Barcelona next month down if not yet out, but the damage seems as close to irreversible as it gets. Dani Alves' injury-time strike to make it 2-0 brought that same old feeling back again. So close again on the European stage but yet again a seeming step too far.

Except this time it wasn't. There for the taking they said and there for the taking they were. City have previous with self-inflicted pain. It is these defeats that hurt the most.