Lionel Messi makes it look easy and other things we learned from Barcelona's win over Juventus

Andy West 13/09/2017
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Lionel Messi summoned another mesmerising performance as Barcelona breezed to a 3-0 win over Juventus in their UEFA Champions League Group D opener at the Nou Camp.

Messi scored twice and set up his side’s second for Ivan Rakitic as Ernesto Valverde’s men capitalised on some dismal defending by the visitors to claim some degree of revenge for last season’s quarter-final loss.

Below, we analyse the key talking points from Barca’s win over Juventus.

Messi makes it look easy

Is there any end to Lionel Messi’s talents? The answer is probably not, with the Argentine delivering yet another sensational performance as he reached a minor milestone by scoring his first (and second) career goal past iconic Juventus keeper Gigi Buffon.

Perhaps the most outrageous thing about Messi is how simple he makes it look.

When he received possession before his first goal, for example, there seemed to be little danger. But then he produced a swift and subtle change in direction, a quick exchange of passes with Luis Suarez, instant control and a promptly released shot which rolled inches inside the far post, giving Gigi Buffon little chance to react, never mind attempt to save it.

The second goal was similar. Running onto a pass from Andres Iniesta in full stride, around 30 yards from goal, everyone knew he was going to cut inside onto his trusty left foot. But knowing what he’ll do and stopping it are very different propositions, and Messi took out two defenders with a subtle feint to open up space for another shot which left Buffon standing.

All his teammates could do was get out of the way, stand, watch and applaud. And so should the rest of us.

 

Dembele struggles to ignite the right

It may be churlish to point out a negative after a convincing Barcelona victory against last season’s Champions League finalists, but Ousmane Dembele delivered a pretty unconvincing display on his full Barca debut.

The 20 year-old Frenchman clearly possesses some highly impressive attributes, notably his ability to penetrate defences with direct and speedy running which was demonstrated in the early stages, firstly as he won the game’s opening corner and then excited fans with a burst which beat two defenders.

But, on this occasion at least, he was poor in his end product and offered little in associative play, with several fast-paced one-touch passing moves breaking down when they reached Dembele.

On this showing, the young Frenchman’s skill set did not look suited to Barca’s possession-based style of play – his first touch was often poor, and he looks like the kind of player who excels when he has space to run into rather than receiving the ball to feet.

True, the same could be said of Luis Suarez and he has made a major success of his time at Barcelona, but for now it’s clear that Dembele and his teammates face a fairly lengthy period of adjustment before we can expect to see the best of him.

 

Pjanic makes Juve tick

Is there a more underrated player in world football than Miralem Pjanic? The Bosnian midfielder is by no means one of the biggest stars at Juventus, but he is responsible for making the team tick rather than more recognisable names Paolo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain or Giorgio Chiellini.

Occupying a key position in the centre of the field, Pjanic is always willing to receive possession, rarely squanders it when he is given the ball, and shows good positional sense to knit his team together.

He had more touches of the ball than any other Juventus player during a first half which his team largely controlled until the very final seconds, when Messi’s brilliance gave Barca the lead, and although the margin of defeat was eventually conclusive that was certainly not his fault.

At the age of 27 Pjanic is in the prime of his career and although he is rarely talked about, he should be regarded as one of the very best in his position.

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Barcelona and Juventus player ratings as Messi dominates but De Sciglio and Higuain flop

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Lionel Messi.

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.

BARCELONA

Ter Stegen – 8

Semedo – 7.5

Pique – 6

Umtiti – 7

Alba – 7

Rakitic – 7

Busquets – 7

Iniesta – 8

Dembele – 5

Suarez – 5

Messi – 9

JUVENTUS

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

VERDICT

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.

MAN OF THE MATCH

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.

MANAGERS:

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.

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Jordan Henderson vs Steven N’Zonzi and two other key battles which will decide Liverpool vs Sevilla

Andy West 12/09/2017
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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?

We want to hear from you so comment below, get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.

HENDERSON V N’ZONZI

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.

MANE V MERCADO

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.

MATIP V BEN YEDDER

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.

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