Sport | Champions League – City and Arsenal see red

England’s teams made a disastrous start to the knockout phase of the Champions League as the first round of last 16 games were contested this week. Both Manchester City and Arsenal face mountains to climb at the Nou Camp and Allianz Arena should their quests for European silverware continue into the spring.

Manchester City’s game against Champions League behemoths Barcelona was a relatively cagey affair, lacking in clear cut chances for the hosts. However Manchester City had successfully avoided conceding a dreaded away goal during the first fourty-five minutes.

However disaster struck soon after the resumption of play in the most controversial of circumstances. Martin Demichelis brought down Lionel Messi in the fifty-fourth minute resulting in a Barca penalty and a red card for the Argentinian defender. While replays suggest that Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson may have been harsh, showing that Messi could have been impeded by his countryman outside the penalty box. Messi slotted home the penalty, as if that needed saying.

Playing a man lighter made the challenge a trickier prospect. Yet, a slick passing move to David Silva, aided by an intrusion into the Barca half by Zabaleta, gave the Spaniard a chance which forced a low save out of Valdes.

This was to be City’s last threatening chance. City’s search for damage limitation was ended in the final minute when Dani Alves ventured forward from right back to receive a pass from Neymar and double Barcelona’s advantage, surely all-but ousting City from the tournament.

Arsenal faced a similarly daunting task at home to the title holders Bayern Munich, seeking to become the first team to win back to back Champions League titles.

After an engaging opening in which surprise selection Sanogo forced a stop from Bayern’s keeper, delirium struck at The Emirates in the eighth minute when Arsenal drew a penalty from Jerome Boateng’s rash challenge. Yet this golden opportunity evaded Arsenal as Mesut Ozil’s tame penalty was palmed away by Manuel Neuer.

The first half was an extremely entertaining affair but it turned sour for the Gunners before its half time. At the other end, Szczesny fouled Arjen Robben inside the box gifting Munich a penalty of their own, and a numerical advantage as the Arsenal goalkeeper was sent off. Spaniard Santi Cazorla was sacrificed for Lukasz Fabianski, but the Pole was not required, as Arsenal were granted their own reprieve when David Alaba could only hit the post.

In the second half coach Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona philosophy shined through in his new German side. They attempted 863 passes and retained 78% of possession over the first leg as Arsenal rarely threatened in the second half. Toni Kroos, so influential in the tie, broke the deadlock with a curling effort from outside the box which flew into the top right corner, demonstrating why his services are desired by the likes of Manchester United.

Arsenal were now hoping to stay alive by the final whistle but Thomas Muller placed their chances of progression on life support when he headed in for 0-2. Kroos nearly added a third before the ref’s whistle but the upright saved Arsenal again.

Both British teams face minute chances of progression, although Arsenal did win 2-0 in Munich last season.

Meanwhile, Paris Saint Germain reaffirmed their credentials as potential victors with a 4-0 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, including a brace for Ibrahimovic (of course). Dark horses Atletico Madrid claimed an impressive victory in the San Siro as they outlasted AC Milan 1-0, the only goal scored by their Spanish sensation Diego Costa.

David Grant

Image courtesy of the Guardian

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