MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Feeling they had a point to prove, Barcelona's players delivered in style, leaving Manchester City bitter and bruised.
Advancing to the Champions League quarterfinals should be a formality after Lionel Messi scored a penalty kick in the 54th minute and Dani Alves added a goal in the 90th to secure a commanding 2-0 advantage over City on Tuesday night in the first leg of their second-round matchup.
Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas felt confident enough to deliver a message to his team's critics: "They will have to shut up for a few days."
It seems incongruous that Fabregas would have to be so defensive of Barcelona, given his team tops the Spanish standings, has reached the Copa del Rey final and is on the verge of reaching the Champions League quarterfinals for the seventh straight year.
"There's nothing else you can ask for," Fabregas said.
So much for the Catalan giants being a fading force. This win, against a team that seeks to emulate Barcelona on and off the field, exposed the gulf between them. And City, which has spent heavily to reach the knockout phase for the first time, couldn't keep up with the elegant visitors.
"Maybe we had to prove a point in a way and I think we did it," Fabregas said. "And I think we did it in a style."
Even after Messi scored his 11th goal in 11 games since returning from a leg injury that sidelined him for two months, City managed to unsettle Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes more than had it with a full complement of players.
But City couldn't score an equalizer against the run of play, and Dani Alves successfully completed a one-two with substitute Neymar in the 90th minute, sending the ball through Joe Hart's legs for the team's 113th goal of the season.
It was an unsettling introduction to the knockout phase of the competition for City, with Barcelona's poise and panache enabling the four-time European champions to remain in near-complete control against England's emerging force.
Rather than acknowledging the strength of the opposition, City manager Manuel Pellegrini questioned the integrity of Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson.