Four-time winners Barcelona and French champions Paris Saint-Germain took huge strides towards the Champions League last eight on Tuesday as they both won away from home in their last-16, first-leg ties.
Barcelona prevailed 2-0 over Manchester City but scoring both their goals, a penalty by Lionel Messi and a late goal by Dani Alves, only after Argentinian defender Martin Demichelis was sent off eight minutes into the second half.
PSG, who were eliminated by Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season, thumped German outfit Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 in Germany but, unlike Barcelona, took the match by the scruff of the neck early on and led 3-0 at halftime with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring two of them.
The City and Barcelona clash turned in the 53rd minute when Demichelis brought down Messi, with replays suggesting the foul happened just outside the penalty area.
However, Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson thought otherwise and not only awarded the penalty but also sent off Demichelis.
City did not wilt and had their chances to pull level but instead were hit by a sucker punch at the end as the always dangerous Alves nipped in to slot home a sweetly-taken goal.
Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas said it had been an important statement by his side in light of some remarks, especially by former Real Madrid and now Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who had said they were the worst Barcelona team of “many years”.
“Some people have been doing a lot of talking, nothing new there with one of them, and hopefully this will make them shut up for a few days,” he said.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini blamed Eriksson for tilting the game in Barcelona’s favour.
“Before the penalty there was the foul on (Jesus) Navas, when he (Eriksson) was three metres from the player, so he saw it without any problem,” Pellegrini said.
“From the beginning I felt that the referee was not impartial to both teams. The penalty on Martin Demichelis was not a penalty – it was outside the box.”
While that match remained tight until the end, the other game was over as a contest by halftime as PSG overwhelmed the German side.
Blaise Matuidi scored the opener and Ibrahimovic struck, the second of his goals was a scorching effort from outside the box.
The hosts’ chances of at least getting a goal back decreased markedly when Bosnian international defender Emir Spahic – who had been responsible for conceding the penalty that Ibrahimovic scored for his first goal – was sent off for a second bookable offence.
“We had a good start and when you are one goal up, it’s easier, it gives you space,” said Ibrahimovic.