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 20, 2014, 8:56 AM EDT
Raheem Sterling shined and they held off a charging Norwich at the end to go five points clear at the top.
Apr 20, 2014, 8:35 AM EDT
Mesut Ozil returns for Arsenal after a 6-week absence, can he lead Arsenal’s charge for the top four?
Apr 20, 2014, 7:48 AM EDT
With a reduced role under David Moyes, Welbeck may search elsewhere in the Premier League for a better managerial relationship.
Apr 20, 2014, 7:13 AM EDT
The Reds are well on their way to going top, but Norwich are battling with attacks of their own.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:37 AM EDT
It’s all on the line for both teams this morning in a massive game for each end of the table. Liverpool can put one hand on the title trophy with a win today, going five clear at the top.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:57 AM EDT
Liverpool can go five clear before David Moyes makes his return to Goodison Park.
Apr 20, 2014, 3:53 AM EDT
Dallas stayed at the top of the Western Conference, while Seattle improved to 3-0-1 on the road.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:39 AM EDT
Seattle’s high-priced strike tandem produced another late winner, giving the Sounders their fourth win of the season.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:51 AM EDT
Two huge saves in the final minutes from Nick Rimando keep RSL unbeaten.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:05 AM EDT
Goal difference has the defending champions on top of the Eastern Conference.
Apr 20, 2014, 12:35 AM EDT
Two more goals off set pieces gave FC Dallas its fifth win of the season.
Apr 19, 2014, 10:55 PM EDT
Juan Guzman gave Giancarlo Gonzalez a pass. Columbus came back to claim a draw.
Apr 19, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Two separate leads were pulled back as the Whitecaps fought back at BC Place.
Apr 19, 2014, 9:24 PM EDT
NBC’s team on the scene reacts to the day’s big result:
Apr 19, 2014, 8:49 PM EDT
San Jose remains without a win beside playing the second place Rapids to a standstill.
Apr 19, 2014, 7:43 PM EDT
Look back at a Saturday that helped bring clarity to the Premier League’s title race.
Apr 19, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT
Two weeks ago, it was Mike Magee. On Saturday, it was Juan Luis Anagonó who couldn’t covert late from the spot.
Apr 19, 2014, 6:29 PM EDT
Will Bruin and Andrew Wenger came close, but neither were able to keep his team from playing out a scoreless draw.
Apr 19, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
A host of teams are battling it out to determine who will fill Germany’s European spots. Meanwhile, the rush to avoid the drop continues.
Apr 19, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
Chicago goes for its first win while New England looks to make it two-in-a-row, and it all starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports Live Extra:
- Norwich City 2-3 Liverpool: Sterling, Reds with one hand on the title 0
- Premier League Sunday Preview: Liverpool’s chance to tighten its grip; Fourth place in focus 0
- MLS Roundup: Sporting climbs to first in East; RSL stays undefeated 0
- Late Martins goal gives Seattle full points at Chivas USA (video) 0
- Grabavoy winner prolongs Portland’s agony against Real Salt Lake (video) 0
- Pérez’s late goal gives FC Dallas 2-1 win over Toronto FC (video) 2