Joe Hart
Lionel Messi was denied a 44th goal of the season by a quite sensational display of goalkeeping from Joe HartGetty Images

Barcelona star Lionel Messi has praised Joe Hart after the Manchester City and England goalkeeper produced one of the best displays of his career inside the Nou Camp on 18 March.

Manuel Pellegrini's underachieving side exited the Champions League following a 1-0 defeat in the last 16 second-leg clash but Hart deservedly drew several plaudits for a fine succession of saves that ensured the scoreline remained respectable on a night when Messi in particular looked rampant as the orchestrator of the hosts' formidable attack.

"He was phenomenal," Messi was quoted by Sky Sports as saying after the match. "He stopped everything. We have to congratulate him on a great game because he's a fantastic goalkeeper."

Manchester City's failure to progress to the quarter-finals did not come as any great surprise. As they were at the same stage against the same opposition last season, the reigning English champions were comfortably second best over the two fixtures and it was only Hart's repeated heroics that prevented his defenders from being truly embarrassed against the triple-threat of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

Despite an obvious lack of expectation regarding an ageing City squad's chances of overturning a 2-1 first-leg deficit, a failure to advance to the last eight of the Champions League is likely to have done preciously little to boost Pellegrini's chances of remaining at the Etihad Stadium beyond the summer.

A chastening defeat to relegation battlers Burnley saw the club slip six points behind Chelsea in the race to retain their Premier League title and speculation over the Chilean's job security has continued to circulate as a result.

A mostly composed figure who often refuses to place the blame solely on referees for his own team's shortcomings, Pellegrini, who won the Premier League and League Cup in his first season in England, is a popular character but expectations are understandably high at Manchester City and he will surely be under no illusions as to his precarious position.

City return to domestic action on 21 March with a home game against a West Bromwich Albion outfit who have been vastly improved in recent months under the management of Tony Pulis and no longer appear unduly concerned by the diminishing threat of relegation.