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.
Sep 23, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
Newly-promoted Paderborn is shocking the Bundesliga and providing quite the show in the process.
Sep 22, 2014, 11:28 PM EDT
It was a rough weekend for Americans in England, but outside the country things a little more enjoyable.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT
The full debut of Men In Blazers graced NBC Sports Network tonight with an assist from Adam Richman.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:04 PM EDT
Despite making just sixteen league appearances the last three years, the Gunners manager says Diaby should be commended for his perseverance.
Sep 22, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
Seattle’s lethal striker is set to cap the best year of his career with a new deal and a raise.
Sep 22, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
The 30-year-old hasn’t been in the Argentinian side since 2011 when he missed a crucial penalty in a shootout with Uruguay.
Sep 22, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT
A dive to end all dives gave the German third division some notoriety.
Sep 22, 2014, 6:26 PM EDT
Things have gone horribly wrong for storied Brazilian club Palmeiras this year, and fans are making their feelings known.
Sep 22, 2014, 5:54 PM EDT
The two sides agreed on a multi-year deal as Olsen calls DC United “my family and identity.”
Sep 22, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Which 11 players stood out above the rest in Week 5? Find out, here.
Sep 22, 2014, 4:36 PM EDT
According to a pair of former players, the old Fulham manager told Brede Hangeland to rub his knee with cheese to reduce inflammation.
Sep 22, 2014, 3:56 PM EDT
What are Leicester City, Burnley and Queens Park Rangers all about? Our analysts break it down.
Sep 22, 2014, 3:22 PM EDT
Who was crowned the best player of the week in the PL?
Sep 22, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Which five goals were the best? Pick your best from two chips, a scissor kick, a belter and a curler.
Sep 22, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Gunners and Saints clash, as the third round of the League Cup takes place this week.
Sep 22, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
Zwanziger: “Medics say they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions.”
Sep 22, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Joining the NBC Sports crew from the crap part of SoHo, the MiB break down van Gaal’s topsy-turvy day.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
A report documenting FIFA’s internal investigation into alleged World Cup bidding corruption will not be published.
Sep 22, 2014, 11:28 AM EDT
Gunners defensive woes compounded as Debuchy will be out for over three months.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at the incredible storylines from the PL during Week 5.
- WATCH: Men in Blazers show debuts on NBCSN 0
- Report: Obafemi Martins close to Seattle extension and raise 0
- DC United extends Ben Olsen’s contract after bounceback season 1
- Premier League Download: Tale of the newly-promoted teams 0
- FIFA Executive: “The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will not happen” 7
- Premier League Playback: Legendary Lampard strikes, United’s shambolic implosion 2