By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
We all knew Jose Mourinho was fishing for a response from Manuel Pellegrini this week when he claimed Barcelona were at one of their lowest points in recent history. But the Catalans showed in their 2-0 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday that reports of their death as a Champions League contender have been greatly exaggerated.
“Of course by history Barcelona is the favourite, but this Barcelona, this season, is showing that it is not the same as in previous years,” the Chelsea boss suggested to ITV when previewing the round of 16 fixture.
“Of course, they have Messi - he is special - and they have more than him. But I think this is the worst Barcelona of many, many years.”
|MATCH FACTS | City 0-2 Barca
Pellegrini ended up setting his side out similar to many before him when faced with Barca, reinforcing his numbers off the ball to the detriment of quantity in attack. And, like a large percentage of coaches in recent years, his reward was defeat.
Lionel Messi’s penalty after he’d been pulled down by last man Martin Demichelis threatened to leave City with a big enough task at the Camp Nou, but Dani Alves’ 90th-minute clincher leaves the Premier League side with the slenderest of hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
We should have expected nothing else, for the truth is that little has changed with Barca. They may well not be the all-conquering outfit of 2009 or 2011, but they remain a side that few know how to beat.
They still dominate possession with significant ease, their quality on the ball remains a sight to behold, and as a result there will always be the chance that teams will get picked off. If you attack them, they make the most of the space, but if you sit back they will simply pass it around you and wait for their opportunity.
Messi’s surge for the game-changing penalty and red card could have come from almost any game in the last six years. So too the way that Barca went about quietly seeing the match out before their attack at the jugular in the final minute.
If they proved with their semi-final defeat to Bayern Munich last season that they are not what they once were, they have spent the entire 2013-14 campaign illustrating that reviews such as Mourinho’s couldn’t be wider of the mark. Tonight’s victory was their first on the road in a Champions League knockout match since February 2012, suggesting they are getting better, if anything.
"We are top of the league, we had a great result tonight and we are in the final of the Copa del Rey," Cesc Fabregas told ITV at full-time.
"Everyone was saying Barcelona are not the same Barcelona, some people have been talking a bit too much and as usual they will now have to shut up for a few days."
With those remarks and that result, Mourinho has been well and truly answered. If this is Barca at their worst, then the rest of Europe has a lot to worry about.