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.
Jul 29, 2015, 7:14 PM EDT
The Azerbaijani champions nearly walked out of Celtic Park with a deadlock, but Boyata’s second goal in as many games did the trick.
Jul 29, 2015, 6:18 PM EDT
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Jul 29, 2015, 5:33 PM EDT
It might be old hat for Drogba, but it’s pretty nutty for us.
Jul 29, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT
Tranquillo Barnetta is set to join Maurice Edu in the Philadelphia Union’s engine room, as the 30-year-old Bundesliga veteran makes his move on a free transfer.
Jul 29, 2015, 3:55 PM EDT
How different will City’s lineup look at the end of August? It’s hard to project anything without that knowledge, but we’ll make an attempt.
Jul 29, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
Robbie Brady and James Chester are leaving the Championship side for new homes back in England’s top flight.
Jul 29, 2015, 2:16 PM EDT
JPW discusses the chances that Norwich City, Bournemouth, and Watford have of staying up next season.
Jul 29, 2015, 1:41 PM EDT
The latest news around the soccer world.
Jul 29, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT
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Jul 29, 2015, 11:40 AM EDT
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Jul 29, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT
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Jul 29, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Mourinho suffers two injuries to key players in Chelsea’s final game of U.S. tour.
Jul 29, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT
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Jul 29, 2015, 8:15 AM EDT
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Jul 29, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT
Oh Eden, stop it. Check out his latest piece of genius.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:08 PM EDT
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Jul 28, 2015, 9:16 PM EDT
Thank goodness Haris Vuckic’s brother follows his career over the web.
Jul 28, 2015, 7:16 PM EDT
Something tell us the exhibit won’t bring in the same sort of interest as the actual wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but it does fit the bill of organized crime.
Jul 28, 2015, 6:11 PM EDT
Here’s hoping MLS makes the idea of this contest laughable in the next decade, if not sooner. Like tomorrow.
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