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.
Jun 29, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT
A huge blow for Mexico as an injury will keep Mexico’s best defender off their Gold Cup squad.
Jun 29, 2015, 10:26 PM EDT
Ronaldinho is on the move again, and (thankfully) he’s not coming to MLS.
Jun 29, 2015, 9:23 PM EDT
Chile will play for their first Copa America title on Saturday. A chance to make history at home.
Jun 29, 2015, 8:31 PM EDT
Guus Hiddink is out as Dutch national team manager after less than a year in charge. Who do they turn to now, ahead of EURO 2016?
Jun 29, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the world, but it’s only a semifinal.
Jun 29, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
By the end of tonight, either Chile or Peru will have booked their place in the final.
Jun 29, 2015, 5:10 PM EDT
A goal and an assist — finally a dominant performance — in the weekend’s biggest rivalry game earns Darlington Nagbe POTW honors.
Jun 29, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
“Rivalry Week” is in the books, and a number of derby day conquerors find themselves on the last MLS Team of the Week.
Jun 29, 2015, 3:21 PM EDT
Rog talks with the USWNT’s Meghan Klingenberg about the team’s lockdown defense, her karate training, and living with Jeff Van Gundy’s family.
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fifth round preview: Cosmos look to do MLS’ N.Y. double, Charlotte hits Chicago
Jun 29, 2015, 3:07 PM EDT
Here’s what’s on tap for Tuesday and Wednesday as the USSF tournament stays regional.
Jun 29, 2015, 2:23 PM EDT
Toronto FC and L.A. will kick off at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Galaxy have won two of their last three matches.
Jun 29, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
You think gossip’s going to take a Monday off? Pssh, please.
Jun 29, 2015, 12:52 PM EDT
Guangzhou Evergrande have added a big name to their title charge in the Chinese Super League.
Jun 29, 2015, 11:39 AM EDT
Many if not all neutral fans expect Argentina and Chile to make it through their Copa America semifinals en route to a border battle final.
Jun 29, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT
That picture is weird, but we’ll get used to it once the Premier League season begins in August.
Jun 29, 2015, 10:06 AM EDT
Less talking, more ranking. Feel free to debate in the comments section.
Jun 29, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
FIFA’s weather-related move of the 2022 World Cup from to November-December has its first legal challenge.
Jun 29, 2015, 7:57 AM EDT
Could women’s football in England be en route to a Brandi Chastain moment of their own?
Jun 28, 2015, 11:37 PM EDT
Some vacationing footballers enjoying a bit of head-tennis
Jun 28, 2015, 9:54 PM EDT
Final: Timbers 4-1 Sounders
- Foot injury forces DF Hector Moreno to withdraw from Mexico’s 2015 Gold Cup squad 0
- Chile 2-1 Peru: Vargas’ wondergoal puts the hosts through to Copa America final (video) 0
- Men in Blazers podcast special: USWNT’s Klingenberg talks defense, Germany, karate 1
- It’s official: Petr Cech has swapped London clubs, Chelsea to Arsenal 4
- Spanish football league becomes first to take legal action over Qatar World Cup dates 3
- England’s case of World Cup fever just what the doctor ordered for women’s soccer in Britain 3