Yesterday, at Emirates Stadium, in London, England, Spanish Football giants FC Barcelona, with two goals from Lionel Messi, defeated Arsenal 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions League tie.
But the news of the match was Barcelona’s tough slug through a match where they were not favored officially. The Turkish referee, Mr. Cuneyt Cakir, and his crew, missed several calls, and in particular one toward the end of the first half, which saw Luis Suarez heading nearly point blank but having come into the play from an offside position. Yet the officiating crew caught most infractions and did not favor either the home team or the world’s top team. At match’s end Barcelona had been called for 14 fouls to Arsenal’s 13. What a difference playing outside Spain has made!
With possession at the 51st minute standing at 72% for Barca and 28% for the Gunners, one would think the Spanish team was walloping the British one, but Barcelona’s time with the ball was constantly interrupted. Arsenal’s pressing defense disrupted the Cules’ rhythm and did not allow them to build any momentum let alone maintain unduly sustained control inside Arsenal’s half. When Arsenal did get the ball they were able to move it down the field, giving themselves some respite and putting their opponents’ back line to the test. Somehow it is harder to win when one has to attack AND defend.
What we were treated to was an even match for the entire first half. In fact, the home team should have been ahead if only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had been truly on target but once.
In the second half the team’s exchanged opportunities with Neymar coming through one-on-one at Petr Cech and the Arsenal goalkeeper coming up big. Similarly, Olivier Giroud was robbed of a sure goal on a textbook header to the left post which Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved brilliantly with an all-out stretch and dive to his right.
When the opening goal finally arrived, it was a Suarez-to Neymar-to Messi play, precisely what all fans were expecting. And it was pretty and satisfying to see the better football making the ultimate difference on the scoreboard. The tally materialized in a beautiful counterattack. But it was the defensive blunders which accompanied the good Barcelona play that spelled doom for Arsenal.
When Neymar got the ball from the Barca defensive clearance, at the 70:38 mark, three Arsenal players collapsed around him. For that to happen someone had to be open. Mistake one. Neymar then found Suarez by the left sideline and after passing to him the Brazilian took off. Suarez’s pass to Neymar could not have been easier as no defender kept up with the other South American. Mistake two. Then, when the Brazilian put on the afterburners, no one was going to catch him. Nacho Monreal, the final trailing defender seemed unsure about going after the striker or guarding the canyon of open space he would be leaving behind. As Neymar seemed to be closing in on goal Monreal had to try to close in on the striker. But the defender was desperately out of position and arrived way too late. He should have guarded the rear, for the play’s trailer was a certain Messi. Mistake three.
Messi did what only he can do. With a one-on-one at the 71st minute, and the game on the line, he dummied. Cech had to rush out and he went down swallowing the bait and ending prone and at the striker’s mercy. Messi placed the ball above him and away from Monreal, who had turned back to cover for his keeper, for the easy score at the 70:51 mark. Three passes from the best three-man attack in football, and in 13 seconds they covered seventy yards, got by five field opponents, and the goalkeeper, to put the ball in the net. That was the game but it did not need to be the series.
If Arsenal had been able to hold it at that they might be going back to the Camp Nou with some semblance of hope. But, they conceded a well-called penalty at the 83rd and Messi converted. That was the series. The Gunners will be hard put to score three and not concede in Spain.
Real Madrid defeats Roma 2-0
Last week, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo scored a beauty of a goal against hosts AS Roma, and Jese scored late off a pretty solo run, to win the first leg of their Champions League tie against their Italian hosts. Ronaldo scored away from home for his second consecutive game and the Merengues seem to have salted this one away as a 3-0 home defeat in the second leg seems unlikely.
Atletico Madrid draws with PSV Eindhoven
Today, Atletico Madrid drew 0-0 with PSV, at Philips Stadion, in Eindhoven, Holland. The game was an exciting back and forth affair with plenty of scoring opportunities gone begging. In the second half PSV played the last 20 minutes with 10 men due to a double-yellow-red. This tie is yet to be decided as PSV showed they are up to playing Atleti on even terms.