Nov 20, 2012, 2:26 PM EDT
Barcelona had their easiest match of the Champions League season, their long trip to Moscow met with little resistance in a 3-0 win over floundering Spartak Moscow.
With the victory, Barcelona has clinched a spot in the tournament’s second round. Should Celtic lose at the Estadio de Luz later today, Barcelona will clinch first place in Group G.
Right back Dani Alves opened the scoring in the 16th minute, his half-volley of a blocked Lionel Messi shot finding the lower left corner from 19 yards out.
Before halftime, Messi added his fourth and fifth goals of the competition, settling the matter before the sides went into intermission.
Man of the Match: With two first half goals, Lionel Messi raised his 2012 all-competition total to 80, five behind Gerd Müller’s all-time record. His first was a right-footed finish from the edge of the area, converting after Spartak keeper Andrey Dikan had blocked an Andres Iniesta shot. The second saw Messi take a Pedro Rodríguez pass and dribble around Dikan before finishing into an open net from just inside the six-yard box.
Messi has up to 10 matches remaining in 2012. If his usage pattern holds, he’ll appear in almost all of them. With a hot streak, Messi could eclipse 100 goals.
Threesome of knowledge: What we learned
For better and worse, Barcelona looked their normal selves.
Let’s concentrate on the good with this bullet point, because an elegant display from Barcelona shouldn’t be overshadowed. Spartak’s passive defensive posture meant Barça wasn’t pushed to the frantic extremes that bring Barcelona’s best, Barça was allowed enough time on the ball to complete a number of uncharacteristically long, perfectly executed passes, particularly during their first half push. Xavi chips over the top, Messi swinging the ball wide for Iniesta, long probing sliders picking out gaps in the Spartak defense – Barça was given a chance complement their tiki taka.
While those moments were abnormal for Barcelona, the tenor of the performance wasn’t. After Dani Alves’ opening goal, Barça seemed to play the match at three-quarter speed, Emery’s approach allowing Barcelona’s bursts to augment out of their spans of calm control. Never bothered to break their gallop, Barcelona pranced to a typically easy victory.
Defending wide continues to be a problem for Barcelona.
Barça has always been vulnerable behind Dani Alves, but in the past, Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets have been able to mitigate that danger. With Eric Abidal at left back, Barcelona were always able to do an adequate job compensating for the right winger they employ in defense.
Now Jordi Alba’s at left back, and while he’d no Alves, he does push forward farther, more often, and with more persistence than Abidal. That leaves both flanks vulnerable, and without an Abidal-esque presence on the right, Barcelona doesn’t have as much support when the defense is forced to flatten out and cover the width of the pitch. Add in Puyol’s injury problems and you have a much more vulnerable team.
One first half counter from Spartak served as a perfect illustration. The movement started down the left (Alves’s side) before a long ball switched right found a man on Alba’s flank. The defense stretched, Spartak was able to find a player for an open half-volley in the middle of the penalty area.
Abidal is due back at the beginning of the year, though it’s unclear how much (or if) he’ll play. Puyol was on the bench today, as was Alex Song. Barcelona has options. They just need to decide how vulnerable they’re willing to be.
Time to pass some judgments on Unai Emery.
Spartak has been generally unimpressive under new coach Unai Emery, but since their middling form had yet to cost them anything major, it was best to reserve judgment on the former Valencia man. After today’s loss, though, Spartak can’t advance to Champions League’s knockout round. If Benfica defeats Celtic later today, Spartak’s out of Europe.
Combined with a fifth-place standing in Russia (nine wins through 16 rounds), the Unai Emery era has been a worrying one for the People’s Team. In a Russian soccer culture that’s not shy about cutting bait with a coaching commitment, Emery’s putting himself in (more) trouble.
Spartak’s performance today at the Lizhniki was lacking in everything. There no inspiration in a team whose tournament sat in the balance. There was a hint of a plan (dispossess high, counter quick, otherwise absorb), but with no spirit backing it, the approach was set to fail. The backline seemed ill-prepared. The squad took a 2010 approach to 2012 Barcelona.
Other than “more time,” it’s hard to make an argument supporting Emery, if you call “more time” supportive.
Packaged for takeaway
- José Jurado was useless today. Deployed as the attacking midfielder in Emery’s 4-2-3-1 formation, he had no impact. He was a wasted man when the team could have used more of a presence in front of the defense.
- Spartak needed that presence because deep midfielders Rafael Carioca and Kim Kallström did little to prevent Barcelona from picking out holes in the defense.
- At least, that’s what happened in the first half. With Barcelona up three at intermission, the second half was inconsequential. Spartak improved over the last 45 minutes, though it would have been difficult not to.
Aug 29, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT
Michael Bradley powered TFC to a 2-1 victory in the 401 Derby, and essentially locked up a playoff place in doing so.
Aug 29, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
NYCFCs struggles continued on Saturday, as they lost to a very poor road team in Columbus Crew SC.
Aug 29, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT
James Rodriguez scored two filthy goals on Saturday. We need your help deciding which one was more impressive.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT
Bayern Munich continued its strong start to the Bundesliga campaign, and will be the only team to boast a 3-0 record unless BVB beats Hertha Berlin on Sunday.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Being the “better” side is a subjective thing, of course, especially when you fail to win.
Aug 29, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Catch up on all the action from eight games on Saturday, as there were plenty of shocks in the PL.
Aug 29, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Arsene Wenger isn’t panicking over another close call against Newcastle United. The way he sees it, they did well to win 1-0 on an own goal.
Aug 29, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
With Howard back in a U.S. jersey next week, he put in a Man of the Match display to grab Everton a point at Spurs.
Aug 29, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
Here’s three things we learned from the Lane.
Aug 29, 2015, 2:24 PM EDT
Spurs attacked for much of the match but were held off the scoresheet by American goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Aug 29, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT
The Liverpool manager was disappointed in the Reds play but also criticized the referee.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT
Jose Mourinho gave lots of credit to today’s worthy opponent, but did stay somewhat true to his nature.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT
Afellay and Adam sent off as Baggies down Potters on Pulis’ return.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:01 PM EDT
Artur Boruc got a piece of Vardy’s penalty attempt, but not enough. 1-1.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
Hammers win at Anfield for first time since 1963.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:55 AM EDT
Yann M’Vila and Jeremain Lens scored for Sunderland, with Scott Sinclair striking twice for Aston Villa in between.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:54 AM EDT
Mourinho loses second home game in 100 PL matches as Chelsea boss.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:51 AM EDT
City has now won 10-straight Premier League matches across seasons, and has yet to concede a goal this season.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
Can Spurs get their first win of the season? Watch live online, here.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Wenger admitted his Premier League club would like an elite striker before the transfer deadline closes on Monday.
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