Lionel Messi back in business and other key talking points from Barcelona's draw against Borussia Dortmund

Andy West 07:57 18/09/2019
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Barcelona stumbled to an unconvincing goalless draw at Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen taking the starring role with some excellent goalkeeping.

The outcome was far better than the performance as Barca claimed a point from arguably their toughest game of the group stage, but manager Ernesto Valverde will know his team needs to improve significantly all over the pitch.

Here are the key takeaways from this Champions League opener.

Ter Stegen to the rescue

This was a far from convincing performance from Barcelona, who created no major chances of note and were indebted to a combination of poor finishing, a touch of fortune when Julian Brandt’s thunderbolt shot crashed onto the crossbar and, above all, some excellent goalkeeping from Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Back in his native Germany, the keeper produced several super stops highlighted by a magnificent diving effort full stretch to his left to palm away Marco Reus’s penalty midway through the second half (although, it must be acknowledged, the penalty really should have been retaken because ter Stegen had advanced halfway to Moenchengladbach before it was taken).

The outstanding display felt like something of a statement from ter Stegen, who has attracted big headlines in Germany over several months for national team coach Joachim Low’s refusal to promote him ahead of Manuel Neuer as Germany’s first choice.

Overhauling a legend and team captain like Neuer is no easy task, especially when he carries so much support within Germany as a star player for the country’s most popular club Bayern Munich, but ter Stegen cannot have done any more to state his case. Now all he can do is wait until next month’s internationals, and keep his fingers crossed.

Away woes continue

Aside from ter Stegen, there were very few bright spots to Barcelona’s performance. They were continually vulnerable at the back, with Nelson Semedo suffering a torrid night against Jadon Sancho and the centre back duo of Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique regularly getting caught on their heels.

The midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Arthur Melo and Frenkie de Jong kept the ball well at times without offering any penetration, and were regularly exposed by Dortmund’s swift breaks from defence – although that was less evident after de Jong moved to the pivot position in place of Busquets.

Up front, Antoine Griezmann worked hard up and down the left wing but rarely threatened goal, while Luis Suarez was starved of service and teenager Ansu Fati was handed a dose of reality after the magic of his previous performance against Valencia.

It all added up to a pretty mediocre showing which continues the team’s troubles away from home, leaving Ernesto Valverde’s men with just one win from their last eight road trips. If they don’t find a way of delivering more effective performances on their travels soon – starting at Granada on Saturday – they will struggle to claim any meaningful silverware this season.

Messi back in business

Aside from ter Stegen, the only real positive on the night for Barca was the return to action of Lionel Messi, who made his first appearance of the season after recovering from a calf strain by replacing Fati after an hour.

Although there were a few shimmies and feints to send a reminder of Messi’s brilliance, in truth he wasn’t able to exert a big influence on the action as Dortmund pushed harder for a winner, and his only sight of goal was swiftly snuffed out by a solid block as he latched onto a deep cross with the last touch of the game.

But expecting Messi – or any other player – to be performing at their peak after not playing any competitive football for more than two months and only completing two full training sessions would be wholly unrealistic, and Barca fans should just be grateful to see their icon back on the pitch rather than worrying too much about how he played.

The next decision to be made by Messi and Valverde – presumably after discussion together – is whether he will start at Granada on Saturday or wait until next Tuesday night’s home meeting with Villarreal.

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