Joe Hart stepped onto the pitch at the Camp Nou hoping to help Manchester City pull off a stunning Champions League comeback against Barcelona, and he did his part. He was the best player on the field, making 10 saves and repeatedly turning away Lionel Messi and Neymar from point blank range.
And Man City still lost. The match and the tie.
It was a performance for the ages. Hart was magnificent, remarkable, but it didn’t matter. Every save was for naught. Every dive and tip meant nothing. Barcelona was so much better than Manchester City that the visitors could had the best player on the pitch, playing the game of his life, influencing the scoreboard more than anyone else on the field, and it still got its ass kicked.
When Hart wasn’t wearing his Superman cape, he was watching the ball hit the post. And hit the post. And hit the post again. Spectacular goalkeeper and three shots off the post couldn’t save Manchester City.
Manchester City wasn’t just beaten either. It was battered. It was a constant barrage on Hart, with Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez taking turns running at the goalkeeper. Ivan Rakitic even got forward, scoring the lone goal. When City tried to pin Barça deep to defuse the attack before the front three could get involved, Andrés Iniesta somehow played his way out single-handedly. And with Javier Mascherano stopping every Citizens foray forward before it could get going, the rest of Barcelona’s team was free to run forward without fear.
Worse for City, it wasn’t as if the team was atrocious. Over the two legs, it played perfectly fine. Sergio Agüero had his moments of brilliance, even drawing a penalty (that he had saved), while Yaya Touré did his best to hold the midfield together. The center back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis was perfectly passable. With superhuman Hart behind them, that would have been enough against most teams, even in the Champions League.
But Manchester City wasn’t up against most teams. It was up against a machine. And seeing as this wasn’t a movie, one man was not going to beat a machine. Barcelona can’t be stopped by passable defending or penetrated by a couple bright moments. It’s incredibly adaptable and dynamic. Barcelona is the best team in the world, right now.
Nothing could have kept Manchester City from being left for dead.