Barcelona things learned as they find Roma in a giving mood

Andy West 5/04/2018
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Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring Barca's fourth

Barcelona put one foot in the Champions League semi-finals by earning a commanding first leg advantage over Roma at Camp Nou.

Own goals from Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas sent the Spanish giants ahead and Gerard Pique made it three, before Edin Dzeko’s late goal for the visitors was followed by an even later strike from Luis Suarez.

The result was flattering for Barca, who lacked precision throughout the team and suffered an unusually inaccurate performance from Lionel Messi, who missed a couple of decent chances and regularly conceded possession in his first start for two and a half weeks.

So although Barca boss Ernesto Valverde will be happy with the result, he knows there’s plenty of room for improvement for his team.

SLOPPY BARCA RIDE THEIR LUCK

Never mind the four goals and the convincing scoreline: this was not a great performance from Barcelona, who needed Roma to score two own goals to move into a commanding position they didn’t really deserve.

Roma had looked threatening all night, and after Marc-Andre ter Stegen typified a collectively sloppy performance by nearly gifting a goal with a terrible clearance, Edin Dzeko appeared to have got his team right back into the contest only for another defensive lapse to gift Luis Suarez a fourth which has surely put this tie to bed.

Roma look the weakest of the eight quarter-finalists, but Barca were lucky to negotiate this first leg with such a comfortable margin and will be punished by any of the semi-finalists if they don’t sharpen up. There was a lack of fluency and tiredness throughout the team which will concern Valverde, who needs to find answers in the next few weeks.

MESSI STRUGGLES FOR RHYTHM

Having missed Argentina’s friendlies and only appearing from the bench against Sevilla on Saturday, this was Lionel Messi’s first start in 18 days – and it showed. The Argentina star was unusually sloppy in the first half in particular, being dispossessed on no less than seven occasions before the break.

His troubles continued in the second period, when he sent a pair of decent chances too close to visiting keeper Alisson and fired another presentable chance miles over the bar. Even his usual set-piece heroics were conspicuous by their absence, with a first-half effort sent straight into the wall.

Messi’s reaction at the final whistle spoke volumes: there was no celebration, just resting his hands on his thighs in frustration, knowing that he had contributed little to the win. But the bad news for everyone else is that he’s unlikely to play any worse for the remainder of the season.

VALVERDE PLAYS IT SAFE

Barca boss Ernesto Valverde sprang a surprise before kick-off, leaving Ousmane Dembele on the bench in favour of Nelson Semedo, who came into the right-back position while Sergi Roberto pushed forward into midfield.

If that decision was a clear sign that Valverde does not yet trust young Frenchman Dembele to maintain the team’s shape and structure, it also showed the Barca boss was determined to avoid handing Roma the big boost of an away goal to take back for the second leg.

Valverde will have remembered that Barca were rather fortunate not to concede in their previous home tie, the second leg against Chelsea, and he was keen to give his team more solidity on this occasion by using Roberto in midfield rather than Dembele.

It didn’t really work as Barca laboured through an unconvincing performance, but the manager’s pragmatic intentions were a good indication of his cautious mindset.

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Who's saying what as Barcelona and Liverpool record first-leg wins in Champions League quarter-finals

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Lionel Messi was not at his best against Roma - nor did he need to be

Who’s saying what after Wednesday’s night of Champions League action which saw Liverpool beat Manchester City 3-0 and Barcelona see off Roma 4-1 in their quarter-final, first leg ties:

“The first half was brilliant. It was how football should look. We knew about the quality of City but also about our quality as well. The result is not what we expected but we needed to play more football in the second half.”

– Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp whose team scored all three goals in the first 30 minutes at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp was concerned for Mohamed Salah's fitness after the final whistle

Jurgen Klopp was concerned for Mohamed Salah’s fitness after the final whistle

“I don’t have too many regrets or complaints. They had two attacks and scored two goals. That was tough but for the rest of the game we were so, so good. We had to score a goal but they defended more.”

– City coach Pep Guardiola looks for the positives.

Pep Guardiola looks on with mounting dread during the Liverpool loss

Pep Guardiola looks on with mounting dread during the Liverpool loss

“The behaviour of a number of individuals was completely unacceptable and the club will cooperate fully with the authorities to identify those responsible.” – Liverpool FC pledge to seek out the fans who threw bottles and cans at the Man City team bus outside Anfield before the game.

Liverpool have pledged to seek out the culprits responsible.

Liverpool have pledged to seek out the culprits responsible.

“We didn’t expect that after what happened last season in Dortmund. I didn’t expect that. I know that is not Liverpool, the history of the club is much bigger than this four or five or 10 guys. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”

– Guardiola on the bus incident.

Eusebio Di Francesco was a frustrated figure on the sidelines last night

Eusebio Di Francesco was a frustrated figure on the sidelines last night

“They are already good on their own and they don’t need help. Tonight they had help both from the referee and from us.”

– Frustrated Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco after his team’s Camp Nou defeat where they conceded two own goals and were denied a strong penalty appeal.

Pique celebrates after his goal last night

Pique celebrates after his goal last night

“Roma are a good team and they stood up to us well. They play good football, maybe more defensively than we thought but they tried to hit us on the break.”

Barcelona’s Gerard Pique.

Edin Dzeko of AS Roma thought this should have been a penalty when he was brought down by Nelson Semedo

Edin Dzeko of AS Roma thought this should have been a penalty when he was brought down by Nelson Semedo

“The referee had to have to courage to award that penalty against Barcelona. If they gave us that penalty, the game would have changed.”

– Roma striker Edin Dzeko.

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Ernesto Valverde admits Barcelona were not at their best despite putting Roma to the sword

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The Barcelona coach has admitted that his side were well below par.

Two own-goals, from Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas, and a close-range finish from Gerard Pique, presented the Catalans with a flattering 3-0 advantage at the Camp Nou before Edin Dzeko snatched Roma a late away goal.

But, just as the Italians looked to have grabbed a lifeline, Luis Suarez restored the three-goal cushion, by scoring a fourth in the 87th minute.

It means Barca will head to Italy next week with a place in the last four firmly in their grasp but this was not a virtuoso attacking display.

Instead, they benefited from two fortuitous own goals and some careless Roma finishing. They are unlikely to meet as generous an opponent in the semis.

“We did not that have continuity in the game,” Valverde said. “We had some errors and there were times that we rushed into the attack, instead of having some control.”

Barca also had referee Danny Makkelie to thank for not awarding Roma an early penalty, after Nelson Semedo pushed Dzeko in the back.

“They are already good on their own, they don’t need help,” Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said.

“Tonight they had help both from the referee and from us.”

After Cristiano Ronaldo’s spectacular bicycle kick for Real Madrid on Tuesday, even Lionel Messi, back from injury, endured a slightly frustrating night, his shots and dribbles for once meeting opponents rather than the net.

It did not come off for Lionel Messi upon his return from injury.

It did not come off for Lionel Messi upon his return from injury.

Messi returned to the starting line-up after recovering from his hamstring complaint, as did Sergio Busquets, back after breaking his toe against Chelsea three weeks ago.

But while Messi completed the 90 minutes seemingly unscathed, Busquets had to be replaced by Paulinho midway through the second half.

“Busquets has played with some small discomfort for the injury he has,” Valverde said. “In the end he was suffering a lot and we have changed it, but that’s fine.”

Barca led at half-time after De Rossi slid to prevent Andres Iniesta’s pass reaching Messi and inadvertently stabbed into his own net.

Two goals in four second-half minutes then took the tie away from the visitors as Samuel Umtiti’s finish cannoned off both the post and then Manolas, before Pique sidefooted home from close range.

Dzeko’s finish might have given Roma hope had it not been cancelled out by Suarez scoring a fourth, as Barca wrapped up a win that did not wholly reflect a scrappy performance.

“The truth is we know that in the game we can and we must improve in several points,” Barca’s Ivan Rakitic said.

“But we’re very happy for the work. When maybe you’re not playing at 100 per cent, you have to stay together, to be strong. 5-1 would be better than 4-1, to be more calm, and we know Roma will try to turn it around.”

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