Sep 18, 2013, 4:49 PM EDT
Ajax may have re-established its Eredivisie dominance, as Frank de Boer has put a fresh polish on the old Ajax ways en route to three consecutive titles in the top Dutch division.
But a trip into the daunting Nou Camp, once more packed with almost 100,000 Blaugrana supporters, was too much for a young Ajax team, one once again stripped of its top talent in the annual transfer window raid on Holland’s most famous club.
Too bad, too, because this was such an intriguing matchup, one between two clubs so historically linked, and clubs that attempt to play the same way, while also remaining similarly reliant on youth development through their heralded academies. (Fox Soccer’s Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote about the close ties of today and yesterday here.)
Indeed, they may be stylistic kindred spirits, having birthed their games through some of the same tactical DNA, but Barca and Ajax are hardly playing the same game these days. (Haven’t been for a while, in fact.) Ajax players, gifted as they are, just cannot match Barca’s technical aptitude nor the collective wit – especially not when playing as the visitors in Catalonia.
Not that Ajax looked completely overwhelmed. For about 15 minutes right in the middle of Wednesday’s match, de Boer’s team created the better chances. Ricardo Van Rhijn came close on a diving header and Lerin Duarte probably could have done better with a lash from 18 yards right in the middle, both chances not long after the 30-minute mark.
In the end, Leo Messi’s fourth career hat trick help carry his Blaugrana steadily away in a 4-0 night at the Camp Nou.
New Blaugrana manager Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, the Argentine committed to re-establishing a Barca press that lost just a bit of its edge last year, felt comfortable enough to rest longtime Nou Camp midfield staple Xavi. Martino preferred the much younger Cesc Fabregas, knowing that Xavi, 33, will need strategic resting along the way. Indeed, Barca’s first match in tournament group play seems like a logical spot.
Barcelona did control things early, and Messi’s unstoppable free kick in the 21st minute brought the inevitable breakthrough. Neymar, along the left in Barca’s fluid 4-3-3, had been the most effective Barca man early, but it was Messi who drew the telling foul.
Later, Messi was sure to score on a 54th-minute counter attack, as Alexis Sanchez’s swell run inside freed the club’s Argentine star to waltz in along the right for a 2-0 lead. That one seemed to break the Ajax will.
It was hardly a perfect night from the Catalan giants, who lacked a certain urgency and sharpness for big stretches. Alexis and Fabregas seemed unusually subdued, Javier Mascherano was sloppy with too many of his passes from the back line and Dani Alves seemed reluctant to shoot.
In the end, goalkeeper Blaugrana ‘keeper Victor Valdes needed a big night just to keep the clean sheet.
Apr 28, 2015, 2:37 PM EDT
in the latest podcast from Earle and Mustoe the lads discuss Arsenal’s progress, United’s failings and dissect the relegation picture.
Apr 28, 2015, 1:52 PM EDT
Teams gunning for Premier League positions at opposite ends of the table both need victories to progress towards their respective goals.
Apr 28, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
Is it time for the Gunners to cash in and let Wilshere flourish elsewhere?
Apr 28, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT
Ahead of the second leg of their CCL final, the Impact has finally figured out its goalkeeping dilemma.
Apr 28, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
With six massive teams from Europe in action, plus three MLS sides, here’s where you can see them this summer.
After Bournemouth all but seal Premier League place, here’s some other minnows to make the top-flight
Apr 28, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT
Here’s a look at five small clubs who have come and gone in the PL era.
Apr 28, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
The Mexican international is enjoying life in Spain’s capital. How much longer will he be around?
Apr 28, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
Can the Tigers grab a big win vs. Liverpool to ease their relegation fears? Watch live on NBCSN, Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET.
Apr 28, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
If this happened, and it’s a big if, it would surely be the biggest swap deal in soccer history.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
Sometimes words can’t be used to express emotions, so this team resorted to throwing wild haymakers instead.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
A friendly reminder that we’re all entirely too knee-jerk with our reactions these days.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
This one is an absolute beauty from Bobby Wood, who’s doing his part to keep Erzgebirge Aue from being relegated out of 2. Bundesliga.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Freddy made his second appearance for KuPS last week, and dare we say it, he looked pretty good. See for yourself.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT
Only an all-time historic meltdown of epic proportions can keep Bournemouth out of the Premier League now.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Maybe the best player in MLS that you don’t know about, it’s time to recognize Ethan Finlay.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
28 goals in 9 games means choices aplenty for this week’s MLS Team of the Week.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT
Now 21-year-old midfielder John McGinn is set for three weeks on the sidelines, though he also has a heck of a story.
Apr 27, 2015, 2:18 PM EDT
The 29-year-old Belgian center back joins a unit which has conceded just 19 goals in La Liga play, the best total in the league by six goals.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT
Hazard is now the PFA’s reigning Player of the Year. We doubt very much this video will make his peers think they voted incorrectly.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:16 PM EDT
Backup keeper Erik Kronberg is ineligible for the competition since he was a part of Sporting KC earlier in the tournament.
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