It was always going to be an uphill struggle for Gareth Taylor’s side as they looked to overturn a three-goal first leg deficit against a side yet to taste defeat this season, but Janine Beckie’s close-range effort inside 20 minutes gave us hope.
Although the American’s assured spot kick proved to be the last goalscoring act of the match, City proved that they can rub shoulders with the very best in Europe, and will take plenty of confidence from the tie into our pursuit of the WSL title.
Mountain to climb
With a three-goal deficit to overcome City needed a bright start, and they pressed fearlessly from the off, looking to disrupt the Spanish champions’ rhythm at every turn.
The first real chance of the game fell to Beckie, who stung the palms of Sandra Panos from a tight angle after Esme Morgan had threaded the Canadian through with a mazy run into the box.
But we didn’t have to wait long to find the breakthrough against a side who hadn’t conceded in their previous 11 matches.
And after ricocheting off Abby Dahlkemper, the ball eventually fell into the path of Beckie, who tucked the ball underneath the despairing dive of Panos inside 20 minutes.
It was just rewards for Gareth Taylor’s side, who looked to stretch the visitors at every turn, but we had to be at our best at the other end to thwart the Spanish champions as half-time approached.
Caroline Graham Hansen initially forced a smart save from Roebuck down to her left with the ball falling into the path of Oshoala from all of six yards.
However, after setting herself, the Nigerian was denied a simple tap-in by a phenomenal last-ditch block from the rapidly backtracking Bronze.
It was a fine example of both the attacking threat Barcelona possessed as well as our relentless desire to turn the tie on its head.
That first real sight of goal snapped the Spanish champions into action, and Bronze and Oshoala would lock horns once again before the break as the visitors searched for a decisive away goal.
The forward raced through from the right after Aitana’s ball breached the City defence but, after Roebuck had denied her initial effort, Bronze was on hand to once again clear the ball off the line before she could bundle the rebound over the line.
Oshoala continued to cause problems after the restart, latching on to a ball in behind and looking to go round the onrushing Roebuck.
Our stopper was up to the challenge though, making herself big and blocking the former Liverpool striker’s path to goal with her right foot.
It was far from one way traffic, and a miscued header from Pereira back to her goalkeeper almost presented Beckie with a one on one situation, but Panos was alert to the danger.
And despite our brave resistance, the Spanish champions got themselves on the scoresheet just before the hour.
Greenwood’s clearance was charged down on the left, with the ball eventually falling to Graham Hansen, who cued the ball back to Oshoala to tuck home from close-range.
It was a frustrating reminder of the threat our opponents possessed, as they maintained their phenomenal record of scoring in every European away tie since April 2017.
In a real testament to City’s never say die attitude, Gareth Taylor’s side were immediately on the front foot, and Ellen White was soon bundled over in the box to hand City the chance to regain the lead from the spot.
Sam Mewis stepped up and coolly slotted home from the spot for her fifth Champions League goal in six matches, clawing us ahead once again with 20 minutes to play.
At the other end, the ongoing battle between Oshoala and Beckie raged on, with our goalkeeper once again coming out on top as the forward raced in on goal with 13 to play.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian landed awkwardly as she looked to evade Roebuck, and was forced off through injury.
While City enjoyed the majority of the play going into stoppage time, it was the visitors who squandered the best chance in the dying embers, when substitute Leike Martens sliced a half-volley wide from 6 yards after the ball had fallen favourably into her path.
There was just enough time for substitute Jess Park to go close in the 95th minute, with the ball trickling agonisingly wide after her instinctive reaction to a loose ball in the box.
Although we bow out in frustrating fashion at the last eight stage, Gareth Taylor's side will be thoroughly pleased with the manner in which they went toe to toe with one of the best sides in Europe.
Player of the Match: Keira Walsh
Coming up against a Barcelona side famed for getting their foot on the ball and dominating possession, it was essential that City won the midfield battle.
And while Lavelle and Mewis deserve credit for their role, Walsh’s assured presence in front of the back four built an essential foundation from which we could build.
Organised, disciplined and tenacious out of possession, assured, calm and positive with the ball at her feet - the complete midfield performance!
How we lined up
Roebuck’s goal was protected by a back four of Bronze, Dahlkemper, Greenwood and Morgan.
Walsh sat in front, with the American duo of Lavelle and Mewis given licence to go forward in a midfield three.
Kelly and Beckie started on the flanks, with White playing down the middle up front.
City XI: Roebuck, Bronze (Weir 72’), Dahlkemper, Greenwood, Morgan, Walsh, Lavelle, Mewis (Coombs 80’), Kelly (Park 86’), Beckie, White (Stanway 73’)
Subs: Taieb, Mannion, Davies
Barcelona XI: Panos, Torrejon, Pereira (Fernandez 88’), Leon (Losada 79’), Ouahabi, Bonmati, Guijarro, Alexia, Graham Hansen (Martens 61’), Oshoala (Crnogorcevic 79’), Mariona (Vilamala 88’).
Subs: Coll, Codina, Melanie
City are the first side to score more than one goal in a game against Barcelona in 38 matches.
The Spanish champions had gone 11 matches without conceding before their visit to the Academy Stadium.
City have scored 25% of the goals that Barcelona have let in this season (two/eight).
The last time we were beaten inside 90 minutes at the Academy Stadium was on 26th September 2018
City are back in FA Women’s Super League action on Sunday 4 April. Gareth Taylor’s side face a trip to Tottenham Hotspur, as we continue our pursuit of the title.
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