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.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The young Swans manager is hoping to get “to the 40-point barrier as fast as possible” after the hot start.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT
Both managers react to a crazy second half at Goodison Park.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:57 PM EDT
All the action from a sensational Saturday of Premier League action.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
Real Madrid could be the deepest attacking side in the world right now, and they just may get deeper.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
One of the greatest games in Premier League history played out at Goodison. Relive it, here.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
The Tijuana midfielder absolutely smoked a goal home against Leones Negros on Friday night.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:14 PM EDT
Hammers boss laments poor decision but must look at his own teams shortcomings after poor display.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
The Special One got a special start from his players. Watch Chelsea vs. Everton live, right here.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT
“We had more possession of the ball than Burnley but more free-kicks were awarded against us than in favour of us,” van Gaal said. “I think that is remarkable.”
Aug 30, 2014, 12:19 PM EDT
Mame Biram Diouf is back from Germany, and the Senegalese forward has already scored a Premier League goal in exhilarating fashion.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT
Watch Everton and Chelsea clash, right here.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:06 PM EDT
One goal does not an exciting game make, but Harry Redknapp will be content to snare his first three points of the year.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:59 AM EDT
Mame Biram Diouf’s dazzling run through Man City was the moment, but Stoke won the match with defense.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:59 AM EDT
Swansea flying after third-straight win to start the season.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT
Remember the name Rolando Aarons, as the 18-year-old Jamaican-born Englishman starred in leading Newcastle back.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT
Schneiderlin double hands Saints their first win of the PL season.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
Watch Routledge’s stunning volley for Swansea City.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT
All the action from a frantic first half. Watch the 2nd half live, right here.
Aug 30, 2014, 10:12 AM EDT
The long-time Arsenal midfielder is returning to both London and the Premier League.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
The Premier League got its first taste of what Di Maria can do when he served an absolutely gorgeous 50-yd ball to a streaking van Persie.
- Premier League Saturday Roundup: Chelsea win classic; Stoke stun Man City 0
- Everton 3-6 Chelsea: Blues prevail in sensational match at Goodison 1
- Manchester City 0-1 Stoke City: Diouf’s dribble springs upset 1
- Newcastle United 3-3 Crystal Palace: Zaha hands Warnock dream comeback 0
- VIDEO: Swansea City’s Wayne Routledge scores sensational volley 0
- Burnley 0-0 Manchester United: Sloppy Utd overshadows Di Maria debut 5