Barcelona defied an outgoing off-field crisis as another Lionel Messi-inspired display exacted revenge on Juventus to open their Champions League campaign with a resounding 3-0 win on Tuesday.
Messi was involved in all three goals as he beat Gianluigi Buffon for the first time in his career to open the floodgates just before half-time.
Ivan Rakitic added a second after Messi’s run and cross opened up the Juventus defence before the Argentine rounded off the scoring by drilling home his second of the evening 19 minutes from time.
Below are the ratings from the game.
Ter Stegen – 8
Semedo – 7.5
Pique – 6
Umtiti – 7
Alba – 7
Rakitic – 7
Busquets – 7
Iniesta – 8
Dembele – 5
Suarez – 5
Messi – 9
Buffon – 6
De Sciglio – 5
Barzagli – 6
Benatia – 6
Alex Sandro – 6
Bentancur – 5
Pjanic – 7
Matuidi – 6
Douglas Costa – 7
Higuain – 5
Dybala – 6
Two evenly matched teams delivered a well contested game, but one of those teams contained Lionel Messi and therefore ending up winning by three goals. It was really that simple, with the Argentine at his mesmerising best to alter the direction of the game with his opening goal and seal the deal with his brilliant second.
Could it be anyone else? Even by his own sizzling standards Lionel Messi is red-hot right now, taking his tally to seven goals in three games including his first ever against Gigi Buffon. He then created the second for Ivan Rakitic and added a superb second in another peerless and majestic display.
Ernesto Valverde: 6
Valverde named his strongest eleven, including full debutant Ousmane Dembele on the right. Lionel Messi again lined up as a false nine in an imbalanced formation which lacked width on the left, and Barca looked predictable until Messi eventually rode to the rescue. The team remains a work in progress.
Max Allegri: 5
The Juve coach was hindered by several absentees and sent out his team in a narrow 4-4-2 shape with Paolo Dybala supporting Gonzalo Higuain. Allegri appeared happy cede width to Barca and focus on defending the centre of the pitch, and it worked pretty well until Messi single-handedly decided the outcome.
Ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash between Liverpool and Sevilla, we look at five key battles.
Who do you think will come out on top and what do you make of our key battles?
The centre of the field will clearly be crucial in determining the shape of the game, and Liverpool must prevent Sevilla’s key player Steven N’Zonzi – a man who knows Anfield well following his time with Stoke – from exerting his usual powerful influence.
As well as being an assured passer and powerful runner with the ball, N’Zonzi is also crucial for his defensive work with his strong tackling ability and good anticipation allowing him to regularly disrupt the opposition’s passing rhythm.
As the home team, Liverpool will look to set the pace and control the tempo, and Henderson must find a way of escaping N’Zonzi’s attentions to keep his team ticking over.
Perhaps that will involve him dropping deeper than usual, effectively becoming a third central defender to find the necessary space to construct Liverpool’s possession play.
If Henderson is able to become the game’s main midfield protagonist, Liverpool’s chances of success will be significantly enhanced.
The majority of Liverpool’s attacking threat comes down the left wing, specifically in the shape of the lightening quick Sadio Mane, who is likely to be accompanied by the overlapping runs and dangerous deliveries of rising star left-back Andrew Robertson.
Mane, however, is the main man for the Reds with his ability to penetrate defences through fast and direct running, and perhaps Sevilla’s most important player in managing his menace is Argentine international Gabriel Mercado, a versatile player who can perform either at full-back or in the centre of defence.
Whichever role he fulfils at Anfield, Mercado’s guile and experience will be vital in containing Mane. And in fact, his comfort in both positions could be a significant benefit – whether Mane goes inside and straight towards goal, or attempts to find more space down the flank, Mercado will feel less concerned about getting dragged out of position than most defenders.
Although they have plenty of striking options, the biggest goal threat for Sevilla comes from former French under 21 international Wissam Ben Yedder, who netted in the league win over Eibar this weekend and scored in both legs of the play-off round against Buyuksehir Istanbul.
As he enters his second season with Sevilla, the former Toulouse striker is already looking more comfortable and confident than he did last year and his clever movement and nimble style could prove a particular headache for Reds defender Joel Matip.
The two players present a real contrast in styles, with Ben Yedder standing at five foot seven while Matip towers over him at six foot five, and the Liverpool defender’s lack of pace and occasional positional lapses make him vulnerable to the darting runs of tonight’s adversary, who will be difficult to catch up if he is allowed to slip away.
Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has underlined the importance of welcoming back World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo for the holders Champions League opener against APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday.
Ronaldo has been suspended for Real’s last four games after pushing a referee in the Spanish Super Cup and has been badly missed as the European champions have been held at home by Valencia and Levante in their last two outings.
“He doesn’t just bring goals,” said Zidane on Tuesday.
“He is an important player in the squad, he is a leader. He always wants to win and he transmits that to the rest.
“Every time he is with us, I as a coach and the rest of the players are happy.”
Ronaldo’s absence has been felt even more acutely due to Madrid’s surprising shortage of striking options.
Real failed to replace Alvaro Morata following his £70 million ($91 million, 78 million euros) switch to Chelsea as they missed out to Paris Saint-Germain for French wonder kid Kylian Mbappe.
Mariano Diaz has also enjoyed a stunning start in France after being allowed to leave for Lyon.
And with Karim Benzema sidelined for a month, 20-year-old Borja Mayoral is the only natural centre-forward available to Zidane.
“When you look at the players we had like Morata and Mariano and you look now and there is only Mayoral, you could think we lack a number nine,” admitted Zidane.
“I would have liked Morata to stay, but you have to understand that he wanted to leave to play more and we respect that.”
Zidane will also be able to recall Keylor Navas, Raphael Varane, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Isco and Gareth Bale after they were all rested from the start against Levante at the weekend.