Dubai: Both are runaway leaders in their respective leagues, both were seemingly impervious to wobbles with their attacking prowess and swagger.
Yet now both Manchester City and Barcelona will have a bittersweet feeling when the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga trophies are held aloft this season.
City were unceremoniously dumped out of the Champions League by Liverpool on Tuesday, having been outclassed over two legs in the quarter-finals. This came either side of a Premier-League-title-celebration-postponing collapse against city rivals United. They were ruthlessly exposed in one half of each of those three matches and it cost them nine goals and a whole lot more.
Yep, the elite English trophy will have light blue ribbons and reside at the Etihad. But the events over the past 10 days have hurt a team who were looking to make their first Champions League final, having made decent progress in the tournament since their debut in 2011.
“I think we are still not ready to win the Champions League but we made a step forward,” said a humble manager Pep Guardiola before the humbling. I think he was secretly thinking otherwise. He demands the best and he has been provided with a generous war chest to make City the best in Europe.
A seventh title in nine seasons as a manager of three top clubs remains a formality for Guardiola.
“We have to win two games to win the most important competition,” he said. “The Premier League shows how good you are every three days. In this competition 45 minutes may make the difference.”
But the owners at City expect the best and that means European glory. It does seem odd that two trophies and all sorts of records broken would end up feeling like a missed opportunity for City. But it does.
Which brings us to that other enigma: Barcelona.
Ernesto Valverde’s side lost to Roma 3-0 on Tuesday in Italy, a result that put them on the wrong side of a humiliating and historic defeat. It also put them abruptly out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage yet again.
“All we can do is apologise to our fans for the way we lost,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “This is the toughest loss since I’ve been with Barcelona, because of the way it happened. I’d be lying if I said that this could help us in some way in the future, because last year we lost in a similar manner.”
Yes, about that future ... Busquets is bang on. This result will only hinder the team’s attempts when they return to the competition next seasons as La Liga champions.
They are undefeated in the league this season but seem to be getting further away from getting their hands back on the European Cup, which they last won in 2015.
This is the third straight season they have departed the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, going out to eventual finalists Juventus last season, and going down to Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid in 2016.
“We want to be contending for the Champions League title year after year,” Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said. “We were hopeful of advancing to the semi-finals after having played a great first leg. Now we have to carefully analyse what happened and try to move on.”
Well, move on they might, but not at least until great rivals Real Madrid — who did their best against Juventus to get dumped out of the competition on Wednesday — and conquerors Roma are done with this year’s tournament. If either of them go on to win outright, that will only cut a little deeper and they will take longer to heal.
“It will be very difficult to recover,” said midfielder Andres Iniesta. “But we don’t have any other option. On Saturday we have another match to play and we have to give our best to try to win the titles that are still achievable.”
They will lift the Liga trophy, and as I say, they may do it with out tasting defeat in the league all season. But there will still be a cloud hanging over them and an asterisk beside their name after their capitulation in Rome.