FC Barcelona played host to Copenhagen in Champions League Group D action earlier today at the Camp Nou. Copenhagen entered the match atop the group with six points from their first two matches while Barcelona were second in the group on four points.
Picture Courtesy: fcbarcelona.cat
Barca were forced to start the match with Jose Pinto in goal as Victor Valdes missed the match due to illness. The back four consisted of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Carlos Puyol, and Eric Abidal. The middle three consisted of Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, and Maxwell as Xavi started on the bench nursing a sore achilles tendon. Lionel Messi, David Villa, and Andres Iniesta were up front.
David Villa nearly scored in the fifth minute after Messi drove into the box and his deflected pass found Villa in a great scoring position. Villa couldn’t quite get his footing correct and ultimately he curled a shot off the top of the crossbar and it fell back into play. At the ten minute mark an Alves cross found Maxwell near the far post, Maxwell fired a shot on goal but it was a difficult angle and keeper Johan Wiland made the save. Barca looked crisp in their passing early on and continued to push forward.
In the 17th minute Iniesta sent a long pass in to Alves, whose one-time pass to Messi led to a well-headed shot on goal although right at the Wiland. The early stages of this match looked similar to the Rubin Kazan match. Barca had lots of possession, good passing, created good shots, and had not scored yet. Copenhagen played smart and had a more offensive look than Kazan did last round (although it would take 11 players literally on the goal line to be more defensive than Kazan were).
Brilliance arrived in the 19th minute as Iniesta made a short pass to Messi who was surprisingly unmarked at the top of the circle just outside the 18-yard box. Messi took one touch and then blasted a shot into the top left corner of the net, 1-0 Barcelona. I wish I had been able to watch this match on GOLTV so I could hear Ray Hudson gush over Messi’s brilliance. If you didn’t see the match make sure you catch the highlights and watch Messi’s strike.
Barca were fortunate in the 26th minute as a Copenhagen breakaway saw Santin 5 yards ahead of everyone on the entire Barca defense only to stop running as he believed he was offside yet the official had not signaled for it. I thought he was perhaps just offside but replays showed he was onside, it was surprisingly close as Puyol played him onside from the far side of the pitch. If Santin had continued running he had only Pinto to beat. In the 31st minute Villa scored but was judged to have been just offside. It was actually the second Barca goal to be negated for offside as Messi had one disallowed earlier. Not a minute later Alves headed the ball perfectly to Villa who blasted the shot right at the keeper. Villa can’t catch a break it seems! Alves was playing his heart out, his touch with both his feet and head were fantastic. Copenhagen had no answer for him.
Messi scored again in the 38th minute but was called offside once more. This had the feel of a 4-0 match but its only 1-0 with all the negated goals. Barca took their narrow 1-0 lead into the break.
Copenhagen picked up their intensity in the second half. Only being down one goal left the game wide open and they did began to push forward more after the break. In the 67th minute Copenhagen nearly leveled as Dame Ndoye out-muscled Puyol and fired a shot that beat Pinto but struck the top of the crossbar and came back in to play. Santin then made his 2nd disastrous mistake as he had the net at his mercy but incredibly headed the ball away! Lucky for Barca! Puyol didn’t look his normal self and Copenhagen’s best two chances of the match so far were a result of him being a step slow.
In the 73rd minute Pedro entered the match for Maxwell and Xavi entered for David Villa. A disappointing day for Villa as he continues to pass and move very well since arriving at Barca but his goal scoring boots have not yet arrived from Valencia.
I have a lot of respect for Copenhagen and they way they are trying to push forward. They are being smart of course, not wanting to be exposed on the counter, but they were not parking the bus by any means! They were playing with a clear strategy, block the play coming from the center. They acted quickly when we attacked from the center but knew that we arent much of a threat from the wings and they full backs stayed in the box instead of blocking the wing-play as they knew Barca did not have enough players in the box. Thus, attack after attack from the wings was snuffed out.
In the 74th minute they had a fantastic chance to score but a late Alves challenge broke up the play, very close to being a penalty but a well timed challenge from Alves. In the 86th minute Kvist, the Copenhagen captain, fired a shot from near midfield, catching Pinto off his line and it nearly worked as he had to deflect the shot away for a corner.
In the 89th minute Alves took on two players, beat them, and fired a shot that deflected off the far post and back into play. In injury time Eric Abidal’s errant shot fell to Messi right in front of the net for an easy tap-in to make the score 2-0.
Overall it was a well-deserved 2-0 win for FC Barcelona. Lionel Messi finished well and deserved both of his goals. For me the story was Dani Alves. It was honestly one of the best performances I have seen from a right-back. His passing was exceptional and led to many chances for Barca. He was solid in defense and his late tackle stopped what could have been an easy goal for Copenhagen late in the match. He was an important part of every serious attack that Barca launched and was definitely my man of the match.
It was a good performance overall. Having Maxwell playing in the midfield is not ideal and hopefully Xavi will be back to full strength soon. I thought Mascherano and Busquets were both solid in midfield defense. Puyol is clearly not 100% but gave the same determined effort we expect from the captain. Pinto got the job done although hopefully Valdes will be ready for the next match. Barca are now in first position in Group D on seven points. Copenhagen are in second with six points.
What did everyone else think? Wasn’t Messi’s first goal sensational? Was Alves as brilliant as I thought or am I overselling him? Have your say in the comments section below.