Manchester City 3-1 Barcelona: 'The night Pep Guardiola really arrived'
Manchester City's outstanding Champions League victory over Barcelona bore all the hallmarks of a seminal moment in the development of this club of unlimited ambition.
Barca were finally overcome at the sixth time of asking on a scintillating night at Etihad Stadium, the 3-1 victory a fair reflection of the manner in which City wrested superiority from the side that beat them 4-0 in the Nou Camp a fortnight ago.
And for City manager Pep Guardiola, this was much more than a result that redressed the balance in Champions League Group C.
Guardiola's revolution takes off
City's lengthy pursuit of Guardiola finally came to fruition when it was announced on 1 February that he would join the club after leaving Bayern Munich.
It was the crucial move City's Abu Dhabi-based hierarchy had been working towards for years, with an infrastructure already based heavily on the one the Spaniard had at Barcelona, with his old friend and former colleague Txiki Begiristain as director of football, and Ferran Soriano as chief executive.
City's house was effectively built in readiness for Guardiola's arrival, and his appointment was the day they had been planning for.
Begiristain and Soriano, and all in power at the club, will have looked on approvingly as the team made the biggest statement of Guardiola's short time in charge, against the club where his - and their - philosophy was formed.
This was the sort of thunderous celebration of football, and victory, they always had in mind through the years of courting Guardiola. This was why City's powerbrokers felt the wait for Guardiola was always going to be worthwhile.
They may have reached the Champions League semi-final under the low-profile Manuel Pellegrini last season, but they went down to Real Madrid with a whimper. The sight of Barcelona being beaten in an eye-to-eye thriller will have raised both the pulse rate and expectations.
This was not the sort of behind-the-door display that left City and their supporters frustrated against Real. Once Ilkay Gundogan equalised after a moment of carelessness from Sergi Roberto just before half-time, there was only going to be one winner.
They were perhaps more direct than the football of Guardiola's perfect world but their pace, movement, passing and unwavering attacking intent carried all of his hallmarks.
Guardiola recognised the significance of the win when he said: "It is a good step to say that once in our lives we played against the best team in the world and we beat them.
"We competed with Barcelona, but for now we did it in a different way. We played more long balls because we are still not ready to keep the ball and play like they do. They have been playing that way for 25 years. For us, it is three or four months we have been trying to play in a different style."
Guardiola's vision is clear. It is far too early to say one win, albeit against Barcelona, brings about the realisation of that vision - but this was a display that brought the future under his leadership into clearer view.
Guardiola's methods inspire belief
Guardiola had admitted he had doubts during City's recent six-match winless streak - but not about his methods.
He said: "The principles? No doubt. But to know the players, how they play with other ones, how you play in different systems, sometimes you make a doubt, yes."
This was the night Guardiola's principles and players came together in a manner which should send a surge of confidence and self-belief through the manager, his squad and the club.
It would have been easy for City to subside in the face of a searing spell of pressure from Barcelona either side of the half-hour, but once they were presented with that unexpected opportunity to equalise, they were ruthless.
The otherwise excellent Raheem Sterling had already squandered a chance before Kevin de Bruyne's fine free-kick put them ahead after 51 minutes, and they had other opportunities before Gundogan wrapped things up 16 minutes from time.
City refused to be cowed by Barcelona's superstars, and the simple fact they fought it out with arguably the finest team on the planet and emerged triumphant should provide them with a deep reservoir of confidence for the future.
They pressed high, smothered Barcelona and beat them at large parts of their own game. The arch-perfectionist Guardiola will always want more but this was a night deserving of his satisfaction.
Guardiola said: "If you talk about the whole performance then, for the first 38 minutes, we were still not able to compete with the best clubs in the world, but in the second half it was different.
"I saw my players were upbeat - they knew they had gone through their bad moment. That sureness that Barca had in the first half, we were able to turn that around."
And in a message that suggested this 90 minutes could eventually be seen as a defining moment for City, Guardiola added: "Now they will realise they have beaten the best team. Future generations will see that and know they have to do that again. That is a process.
"It was the same with the group of players with Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany, who won Premier League title twice in five or six years together. The players arriving at the club now understand they have to do that, or try to do that, too.
"It is not as though our owner Sheikh Mansour and our chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak could come here and say 'we are going to create the best team in Europe.' You need 10, 15 or 20 years to stay there.
"We are going to try to reduce that time, to leave nights for City fans like they got against Barcelona."
City make statement to Europe
City have struggled to make their big statement in the Champions League. This was it.
They finally beat Barcelona at the sixth time of asking, ending the Catalan club's run of seven successive wins against English sides in Europe. City's three goals amounted to more than they had scored in those five previous losses.
It was also the first time an English side has scored three or more goals in a Champions League group game against Barcelona since Manchester United did so 1998-99.
Guardiola's big players demonstrated they have the power to trouble any defence in Europe. Yes, Barca were without key defender Gerard Pique and midfield maestro Andres Iniesta, but nothing should diminish City's achievement.
De Bruyne's goal and creativity illustrated his standing as one of Europe's finest attackers, while the elegance and stealth of Gundogan has added an extra dimension and extra menace to City.
Sergio Aguero never stopped running, buying into Guardiola's demands, while Sterling once again showed how far he has come in such a short time under his new manager.
City's fans lapped up every moment, revelling in seeing the masters outmanoeuvred by the star pupil from Barcelona's school.
It felt like the moment this club has been waiting for. If City can beat Barcelona they need fear nobody - which is the message Guardiola is likely to be delivering.
In many respects, this felt like the night Pep Guardiola really arrived at Manchester City. The club have waited for Champions League nights like this - and this was their best to date.