- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Pep Guardiola brought down the footballing superpower he helped to create, leading Manchester City to a 3-1 win over Barcelona in a landmark Champions League result for the English club on Tuesday.

The victory that City and its Abu Dhabi ownership has craved since joining the Europe elite in 2011 was achieved the hard way, too, coming after Lionel Messi gave Barcelona a 21st-minute lead with his 90th goal in the Champions League.

City took advantage of a defensive error to equalize through Ilkay Gundogan in the 39th minute and swarmed all over Barcelona in the second half, with a free kick from Kevin De Bruyne and Gundogan’s second goal completing the comeback.

City has modeled itself on Barcelona - in the boardroom, on the field and most recently in the dug-out by bringing in Guardiola, who coached Barcelona to 14 trophies from 2008-12 and turned the Messi-inspired team into perhaps the greatest club side ever.

For that reason, it will be the sweetest of wins for City.

“Now we realize we won against the best team (in the world),” Guardiola said. “For the future generations, they are going to realize, ‘Wow, these guys are able to beat the best team.’”

It was also crucial in the short term for City, reigniting its Group C campaign that would have been on the rocks with a loss at Etihad Stadium. City is now two points behind first-placed Barcelona after four games, with both teams big favorites to progress to the last 16.

For 38 minutes, Barcelona looked like rolling to a sixth straight win over City in the last four seasons in the Champions League, the most recent being a 4-0 victory in Camp Nou two weeks ago. Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said it was one of the best passages of play his team has ever produced, with City’s defense carved open by the potent front three of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

Messi’s goal came at the end of a length-of-the field counterattack, which started after a City free kick was cleared. City’s defending was reckless, with its deepest defender 10 meters inside Barcelona’s half when Messi fired a crossfield pass toward Neymar to instigate the move.

Neymar ran to the edge of the area and timed his pass perfectly to the onrushing Messi, who took the ball in his stride before gliding between two defenders and placing a low shot inside the near post.

The turning point in the match was an error from Barcelona right back Sergi Roberto, whose inside pass to Sergio Busquets was wayward and collected by Sergio Aguero. He slipped in Raheem Sterling, who had the vision to slide a cross over to Gundogan to tap in left-footed at the far post.

“When you concede a goal in that way, it is normal that you go through a bad period,” Luis Enrique said.

That bad period lasted the rest of the game.

Barcelona was without defenders Gerard Pique, Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba through a mixture of injury and suspension, as well as injured playmaker Andres Iniesta. Those losses told in the second half, when the makeshift defense made errors and Busquets - the usually unflappable deep-lying midfielder - was swamped and rattled.

De Bruyne, pushed into a more central and attacking role for the second half, was at the heart of everything, on and off the ball.

Following Busquets’ foul from behind on David Silva, De Bruyne curled a 25-meter free kick over the wall and beyond flailing goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, whose slight sideways movement as De Bruyne approached the ball appeared to unbalance him.

The Belgium playmaker then provided a stunning through-ball to Jesus Navas in the lead-up to the third goal, which was slammed in by Gundogan from close range in the 74th. Navas’ cross hit the arm of Aguero, who had the goal at his mercy, but the ball fell kindly for Gundogan to slam home from close range.

“We started a bit nervously,” Gundogan said, “but after we scored, we had our confidence back and the second half was incredible. We dominated Barcelona.”

City will advance with a draw at third-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach in round five, provided Barcelona doesn’t lose at Celtic. Barcelona only needs a point to secure a place in the knockout stage for a 13th straight season.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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