Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Barca Off And Running, Liverpool Not So Much

European champions Barcelona outclassed Levski Sofia 5-0 today in their first UEFA Champions League match of the season. Showing off their new shirts emblazoned with the UNICEF logo, Barca were on the board within seven minutes when Ronaldinho got free down the left and cut in to pass to an open Samuel Eto'o. The Cameroon international then produced a slick one-touch pass into Andres Iniesta's path, allowing him to drill home the first goal of the game.

The La Liga leaders would go up 2-0 before halftime, with Iniesta taking a quick freekick to Eto'o who released to a cutting Ludovic Giuly. The Frenchman made a quick inside move from the right that left him with enough time and space to gently lift it over the Bulgarian keeper Georgi Petkov in the thirty-nineth minute. The result was already beyond doubt, with only the final scoreline in question at this point.

The two teams came out of the locker rooms in the second half to find it a torrential downpour that had started as a sprinkle in the first half. The rain would continue throughout the game, as would the attacking football on display. The last forty-five minutes of the match proved to the rest of Europe that Barca will not let up, even when facing off with a rather pedestrian side like the Bulgarian title-holders.

Soon after the restart, the Sofia outfit failed to line up a wall, begging for Ronaldinho to shoot on goal. He obliged them and forced Petkov into a scrambling save that spilled to the feet of Carles Puyol in the six-yard box, allowing him to score his first home goal in European competition. Petkov's goal would continue to get peppered throughout the match. Eto'o would score in the fifty-eighth minute after a mazzy run from just inside the half-way line and Ronaldinho finished the scoring in extra time after curling in a fantastic fifth that will be on every highlight show tonight.

So what to make of such a drubbing? Not much I'm afraid. Barca are very good going forward, and will destroy any team without quality midfielders and defenders in their side. I feel that it is a little too early to say if Puyol and Lilian Thuram are the answer as the back line's center pairing. When Levski did get any kind of push forward, it was down the middle of the field after cutting in behind the defensive midfielder, in this case Thiago Motta.

This served a useful purpose for the Catalans though, the three points in the bag and a good phsycologically start to the competition. I'll reserve judgement on Frank Rijkaard's team when they play away at the end of the month in Bremen.

Man Of The Match: Samuel Eto'o

Match Stats [UEFA]

PSV 0 - 0 Liverpool

As convincing as Barca were tonight, Liverpool were boring, boring, boring. PSV held Rafael Benitez's side to a nil-nil draw in Eindhoven. The Group C opener produced a handful of openings for both sides put together. The only bright spots being the goal-rattling shots unleashed by PSV's Arouna Kone and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.

Rafa, looking to punish his side for the 3-0 Merseyside thrashing they took at the weekend and to preserve his first choice players for Sunday's match at Stamford Bridge, fielded a starting lineup that didn't include Sami Hyypia, Luis GarcĂ­a, Xabi Alonso, Peter Crouch, Gerrard, and because of injury, John Arne Riise. Let's just say that the game suffered because his decision.

There was just a sense of this being a poor match from the begining, when both clubs started off as if bees were in their shorts. There was sloppy passing, mistimed runs (or no runs at times), as well as a general feeling that both clubs were a little nervous at the outset.

This harried style of play produced the first real chance of the game when Kone showed how fast he can be by taking on a couple of retreating Liverpool defenders. His close control led him to the edge of the penalty area where he unleashed a fierce drive that clipped the top of the crossbar, a shot that Pepe Reina wouldn't have gotten a hand to if it was just a little lower.

The game settle down considerably inside of the first twenty to twenty-five minutes after the Liverpool defenders had caught their breath. The 2005 European champions then started to take control of the midfield behind the solid play of Mohamed Sissoko. This began to produce more danger in the PSV end of the pitch with Craig Bellamy being the most direct player in the attacking third of the field. He linked up well with Dirk Kuyt on occasion with the Dutchman wasting a great chance in the forty-first minute.

The second half of the match saw more of the same. A muffed shot by Kone that he should have passed to a half-open Jefferson Farfan. A long range effort from Edison Mendez flew just wide of Reina's goal. The Liverpool keeper didn't do much to make people forget the blunder that gifted Everton their third goal last weekend. He came out awkwardly a number of times, in the eightieth minute falling on his head. He seemed to be alright after a few groggy seconds.

The match would finish with a brief flurish in front of the PSV goal as Liverpool pushed for the winner. The most dangerous moment was caused by the substitute Gerrard when he one-timed a right-footed shot that hit keeper Heurelho Gomes' right post and bounced behind him along the goal line. I imagine that both Rafa and Ronald Koeman will be satisfied with the result after seeing that the other two teams in group C, Bordeaux and Galatasaray, petered out a 0-0 draw themselves.

This wasn't the most attractive game to watch today considering some of the scorelines in the other groups. For PSV, if this is the best lineup they have, they could be in real trouble of even fishing third. For Liverpool, again I'll save judgment when they face Galatasary at home on the 25th of this month. My guess would be that Rafa will field a full-strength side at home. At least I hope so.

Man Of The Match: Swiss referee Massimo Busacca

Match Stats [UEFA]


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, first consider who they were each playing and where they were playing. I would say a draw for Liverpool away against a formidible opponent like Eindhoven is just as impressive as a home beatdown for Barca against Levski. Liverpool has played as hard, if not harder schedule than any team in the world so far this season. It's almost as if the Premiership and FIFA got together and tried to make Rafa's life a living hell. Not mention the Internationals, of which Liverpool has just as many than anyone else. On top of that, they've been put on the brink of decimation with injuries, especially in the back. This isn't an excuse but they're hard pressed to catch some luck down the road, but that road does include away games against all their biggest rivals before they get their home turn.