The ordeal finished with Manuel Pellegrini confronting the referee and indulging in a spot of finger-jabbing that goes against everything we have seen of the Chilean since he took up residence in England.
Pellegrini went too far with his post-match outburst and, briefly, there was a sense of déjà vu from Roberto Mancini's days in the same seat – except that not even Mancini has gone as far as saying Sweden should not be allowed a referee at this stage of the Champions League.
Amid all the scatter-gun allegations – and a disciplinary charge from Uefa seems inevitable – Pellegrini had some legitimate points. Yet there was another difficult truth for City and it is that a team with genuine Champions League aspirations cannot have a weak link in the centre of their defence.
Unfortunately for them there is a growing portfolio of evidence that identifies Martín Demichelis as a player who has to apologise to his team-mates too often. Under pressure he will always give the opponents something and in a straight contest with Lionel Messi this was always going to be a part of the game that Barcelona could exploit.
Pellegrini's team had generally been coping until the moment, eight minutes into the second half, when Andrés Iniesta expertly picked out Messi's run and Demichelis, hopelessly out of position, clattered into the four-time Ballon d'Or winner with a desperate attempt to recover. As soon as the referee, Jonas Eriksson, pointed to the penalty spot, a red card was inevitable and, though the 10 men gave everything, the home side were always going to be vulnerable to more damage than just Messi's successful spot-kick. Dani Alves, overlapping from right-back, inflicted it with the second goal so that City now require a remarkable feat at Camp Nou on 12 March. Pellegrini's ire was of a man who recognised the damage was almost certainly irreparable.
City's grievance was on two fronts. First of all they had a legitimate complaint that Demichelis's first contact with Messi was marginally outside the penalty area. They could also argue that Sergio Busquets had fouled Jesús Navas in the build-up. Messi, however, was travelling at such speed that his momentum landed him in a place that convinced Eriksson to point to the spot.
It was not as clear-cut as Pellegrini suggested and accusing Eriksson of returning a favour to Barcelona, having made an error against them in a previous fixture against Milan, was a cheap shot.
Until that point Iniesta and Xavi Hernández had played every pass apart from the killer one. Certainly it did not take long before Pellegrini's lecture about City wearing out their opponents by making them chase the ball started to look like wishful thinking. A team with Barça's refinement do not generally suffer that way. One side cherished the ball through the early exchanges as though it were made out of bone china. The other chased and marked and harried and, when it was their turn on the ball, they discovered their opponents have a wonderful knack of getting it back.
Yet City had shaken their heads clear by the midway point of the first half and, cultured as it was, Barcelona's early control tended not to get much further than the edge of the penalty area. Messi, dropping back into the centre-circle, did not have too many gaps to aim for in a heavily congested midfield. Yaya Touré was holding his position more than usual and Fernandinho's return from injury gave City a reassuring presence in front of defence.
Pellegrini had promised City would not adapt their attacking style. As it was, he might be accused of being too conservative, starting with Álvaro Negredo as a lone striker and deploying Aleksandar Kolarov on the left of midfield to help Gaël Clichy double up on Alexis Sánchez and the overlapping Alves.
By half-time the tactic was succeeding in snuffing out the Messi factor. Pellegrini's side had also started to create problems of their own but there was always the sense that Demichelis might be susceptible. His carelessness had returned the ball to City's opponents inside his own half twice in the opening quarter of an hour. There is a clear argument – not that Pellegrini wanted to hear it – that his defending for the penalty was certainly no worse than the refereeing.
City's 10 men played with great togetherness after Messi had clipped his penalty into the spot that Joe Hart, diving to his left, had vacated. They could reflect on a couple of chances to salvage an improbable result. Their best move of the night culminated in David Silva controlling Pablo Zabaleta's lay-off on his chest and firing in a right-foot volley that needed a fine save from Victor Valdés.
Edin Dzeko also created problems after he had replaced Negredo but Barcelona with an extra player are formidable opponents and City's desperate efforts to force an equaliser always meant there would be gaps to exploit.
It had needed some obdurate defending to keep the score down before Alves exchanged passes with the substitute Neymar and cut in from the right to slip his shot through Hart's legs.