- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

MADRID (AP) - So much for this being the worst Barcelona in years.

A thorough 2-0 win at 10-man Manchester City put the Spanish champion in clear control of its Champions League last-16 series, as Barcelona’s highly regarded possession-passing game thrived in perhaps its most important match of the season.

Tuesday’s victory came after Chelsea manager - and always prickly Barcelona antagonist - Jose Mourinho labelled this “the worst Barcelona in years.”

While the Catalan side has endured unusual dips of form this season, it left no doubt of its pedigree in Europe after dismantling big-spending City’s continental ambitions to secure a major advantage for the return leg.

“The truth is we could have inflicted even more damage, so we’re happy with the result,” Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas said. “One team was superior to the other, and that’s it.”

City coach Manuel Pellegrini harshly placed blame on Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson despite his stubborn decision to stick with Martin Demichelis, as the Argentine defender was exposed against Lionel Messi - just as he was against Chelsea in a recent league defeat. Demichelis’ red card led to Messi’s penalty to open the scoring, with Dani Alves adding a second valuable away goal in stoppage time.

Barcelona’s style of play was clear, yet Pellegrini was unable to thwart it.

“Possession breeds opportunities for us. That was always the script and it worked to perfection,” Fabregas said. “We could have also complained about (Gerard) Pique’s goal being waived away for offside.”

Barcelona has progressed each of the eight previous times - stretching back to the 1959-60 season - it has taken a 2-0 advantage into the return leg.

Its last two performances have certainly returned some shine following a bumpy campaign under new coach Gerardo Martino, who has also been without Messi to injury while playmaker Andres Iniesta’s form has wavered because of knocks this season.

“We came here to win, and at no moment did we imagine a result that was any different from that,” said Martino, whose tinkering left Pedro Rodriguez on the bench. “We played a little differently than we usually do when there are three forwards out there. Having an extra midfielder meant even more possession for us.”

The only bad news to come out of the match is that fullback Jordi Alba will be doubtful for Saturday’s Spanish league game at Real Sociedad. Tests on Wednesday revealed a strained muscle in his right thigh. The Spain international missed more than two months due to a hamstring injury earlier this season.

The running barbs between Barcelona’s players and Mourinho stem back to the Portuguese’s sour time at Real Madrid.

“What people say outside games is just a waste of time,” Martino said. “We just have to play well in every competition. We need to focus on what happens on the field.”

The return leg will be at the Camp Nou on March 12.


Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP



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