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Lionel Messi racked up his record seventh career Champions League hat-trick and Neymar Jr added a late goal as FC Barcelona breezed past Manchester City, 4–0, in front of a season-high 96,290 fans on Wednesday night at Camp Nou.
The victory keeps Barça a perfect three-for-three and way out in front in the Group C standings and deals a hard-to-swallow loss to City and their manager Pep Guardiola, who was handily defeated at Camp Nou for the second time in two matches since leaving his lifelong club five seasons ago.
The highly-anticipated encounter was anything but conventional. With the impossibly good Messi once again bringing video-game-like movements to real life and Guardiola, clad in an impeccably tailored, dark grey suit, as animated as ever — his arms flailing wildly as he mimed rapid-fire series of X’s and O’s in an attempt to put his players in position to stop Messi — Wednesday’s match also featured unexpected substitutions, a pair of red cards, a missed penalty kick, and some late redemption.
Messi put Barça up 1–0 in the 17th minute after recovering his own turnover in the City half and driving in towards goal before feeding Andrés Iniesta. But when Iniesta got tangled up with Fernandinho, and they both stumbled to the ground, Messi, wisely pursuing the play, picked up the loose ball right around the penalty spot and pump faked former Barça teammate and City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to the turf before dumping the ball into the net unfettered.
After Barça took the slender, one-goal lead into the intermission, the first big play of the second half put City into a deeper hole from which they would not emerge.
Bye bye, Bravo
In the 53rd minute, when Bravo came way out to play a ball to a defender, Luis Suárez intercepted the pass and shot for the open goal from 25 metres. Bravo, however, had no choice but to swat it down, prematurely ending his Barcelona homecoming and forcing City to play out the remainder of the game with ten men.
Messi made City pay almost immediately, giving Barça a 2–0 lead in the 60th after Iniesta took advantage of a Kevin de Bruyne turnover and fed Messi, who took two steps near the edge of the area and neatly tucked a low shot just inside the post.
Nine minutes later, in the 69th, Messi completed his hat-trick. It was another sloppy turnover by City that ended up at the feet of Suárez, who found Messi trotting in on goal, and the Man of the Match volleyed in past Willy Caballero to make it 3–0.
Messi could have had a fourth late in the game, but after he was fouled in the City area and Barça were awarded a penalty kick, Messi, content with the hat-trick, ceded the spot kick to Neymar. Neymar stutter-stepped up to the ball but Caballero made the save, keeping the scoreboard intact three minutes from time.
But the magnanimous Messi was not finished with his generosity. In the 90th minute he fed Neymar at close-range, and the Brazilian settled and beat Caballero to get on the scoresheet and wrap up a masterful home victory.
The first-half saw Jordi Alba pull up lame in the 9th minute and prematurely taken off for Lucas Digne. After Messi began to heat up, the Citizens responded with a series of hard fouls. In the 29th, City’s David Silva drew a yellow card for a tackle from behind on defender Gerard Piqué. Suárez drew one as well.
Barça goalkeeper Marc ter Stegen, who turned in a clean sheet, was tested a handful of times throughout the game, but none more than in the 38th minute, when İlkay Gündoğan dribbled around Piqué and had a clean look from just outside the six-yard box. Ter Stegen, though, was up to the task, squaring up to the shooter and cleanly swatting away the threat with a one-handed save.
Piqué, noticeably limping ever since the foul from Silva, was subbed out immediately for Jérémy Mathieu. The Club's medical staff released announcements regarding the status of both Alba and Piqué after the game.
Mathieu would later pick up his second yellow of the match with a tackle from behind in the 73rd, once again evening up the playing field, at least numerically speaking, at 10 men apiece.
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