Friday 24 November 2017

Five things we learned from Barcelona's Messi-inspired win over Bayern

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring
Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring

Lionel Messi simply cannot be tamed; Dani Alves deserves a new contract; Ivan Rakitic is heir to Xavi and two more

1) Pep's right - Messi cannot be tamed

Pep Guardiola remarked on Tuesday that "defensive system, no coach can stop Lionel Messi in the form he is in at the moment" and so it proved.

The Argentine dazzled his way past Bayern Munich's players, adding more nutmegs to his collection and creating havoc from deep and down the right wing. However, he had been unable to fire at goal for most of the game and just when it looked as if Bayern might have indeed managed to tame him, he won the game by himself.

First he thrashed the ball past Manuel Neuer at his near post to break the deadlock, then he left Jérôme Boateng on his backside before dinking the ball over Neuer to put Barcelona on their way to Berlin.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal

2) Alves is rolling the years

The Brazilian arrived at the Nou Camp wearing a red blazer, white shirt and bow tie and shorts, resembling a male stripper, but his performance was flawless. He was one of Barça's most active players, marauding forward from the right wing and also taking up positions in midfield, but also left few holes in defence, showing remarkable energy levels.

He was one of Barça's weak links last season and was patchy at the start of this campaign, but has turned it on in the last few months, changing Barça's position on whether to renew his contract less than two months before it runs out. On this form, it is easy to see why.

Football - FC Barcelona v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Semi Final First Leg - The Nou Camp, Barcelona, Spain - 6/5/15 Barcelona's Neymar celebrates after scoring their third goal with Dani Alves Reuters / Gustau Nacarino

3) Neuer as important as ever

Facing the most formidable strike force in football and with a less-than perfect defence in front of him, the Germany international needed to produce a big performance and he did just that. He extended his right foot to deny Luis Suárez after seven minutes, saved from Dani Alves later in the first half and was ever attentive to space appearing behind his defence, racing well out of his area on a number of occasions to put out fires.

 His reading of the game from his goal was as precise as ever, reminding us of the words of his national coach Joachim Löw, who was watching from the presidential box, that he could "play in midfield".

Football - FC Barcelona v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Semi Final First Leg - The Nou Camp, Barcelona, Spain - 6/5/15 Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer looks dejected after Barcelona's Lionel Messi (not pictured) scores their first goal Reuters / Paul Hanna

4) Rakitic is a suitable heir to Xavi

The Nou Camp gave the Croatian a raucous reception as he left the pitch late on to make way for Xavi, the heart and soul of modern Barça who he has confined to the bench all season.

Ivan Rakitic won an engrossing battle with Xabi Alonso in the middle, causing the frustrated midfielder to lash out at his opponent in the first half and earn a booking, but was also impeccable linking up with the attacking three, leaving Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger with their work out. To cap an exceptional performance, he laid on the pass for Messi's second.

Football - FC Barcelona v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Semi Final First Leg - The Nou Camp, Barcelona, Spain - 6/5/15 Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic in action with Bayern Munich's Jerome Boateng and Philipp Lahm Reuters / Albert Gea

5) Bayern can't cope with injuries

Even though they won the Bundesliga at a canter and have obliterated opponents such as Porto, Manchester City and Shakthar Donetsk in Europe, Bayern proved fragile with so many key injuries.

Without wide men Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry they were unable to offer much in attack, testing Marc-André ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal just once.

Barça meanwhile had an almost entirely fit squad - only Jérémy Mathieu was unavailable - in stark contrast to when they were humiliated 7-0 on aggregate by Jupp Henyckes Bayern two years ago, when they were without Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba and Messi played despite clearly still carrying a hamstring. This time it was Bayern who were crocked, and Barça wounded them further on the pitch.

Arjen Robben.jpg
Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben walks past coach Pep Guardiola

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