Pep Guardiola savoured a memorable night as Manchester City beat his old club Barcelona, “the best team in the world”, 3-1 on Tuesday with a display that hinted he may be building something special.
Coming from behind to defeat the side that crushed his team 4-0 two weeks ago prompted a smile from the former Barca coach who said going into the Champions League Group C match that it felt like their “final”.
Defeat could have had calamitous repurcussions for the first year of coach Guardiola’s City adventure, making qualification for the knockout stages look precarious.
However, he watched his men deliver the sort of attacking masterclass he patented at the Nou Camp and could gaze contentendly at a table that sees second-placed City two points behind Barca. What pleased Guardiola most was the character of his side.
City produced the goods when humiliation beckoned again with Barca offering what coach Luis Enrique called “one of the best 40 minutes we have played on a stage like this against top-quality rivals”.
After Lionel Messi had put the visitors in front, the hosts roared back to dominate with Ilkay Guendogan scoring twice and Kevin De Bruyne netting with a brilliant free kick.
“I am so happy for the guys, it is the first time we have beaten the best team in the world,” Guardiola told reporters.
“They (Barca) had an amazing 30 minutes, we had a lot of problems but our first goal helped us a lot. In the second half we created a lot of counter-attacks.”
Here was evidence, after a recent barren spell which seemed to be putting the pressure on Guardiola, that the Spaniard’s determination to stick to his attacking pass-and-move principles is going to pay serious dividends.
City suffered at the Nou Camp after the sending-off of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo but this time, even if Guardiola felt his players were more impressive “11 versus 11” in Barcelona, there was only one team growing in stature as the contest progressed.
The celebrated trident of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez began to disappear as the dazzling De Bruyne, the restored totem Sergio Aguero and the constant menace Raheem Sterling caused havoc for Barca’s rearguard.
“In the second half we were incredible and dominated Barcelona,” said the equally impressive Germany midfielder Guendogan.
“The win was more than deserved. It was more about the mentality and winning the one v ones. It was an unbelievable game.”