Barcelona cruise to easy win over young Ajax side at the Camp Nou
Barcelona strolled to an easy win at the Camp Nou today, brushing aside a young Ajax side the way one might shrug off a flea.
Lionel Messi closed the gap on all-time European scoring leader Raul while Neymar added a beauty and Sandro scored late to give Barca a 3-1 win. Edinson Cavani scored late in the group's other game of the day to give PSG a 1-0 away win over APOEL Nicosia and the top of the group on seven points.
It was very easy for the Spaniards, but it was not the most assured win of the day: that honor has to be split between Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayern Munich, who combined to score 11 first half goals against their hapless opponents in sizzling displays of power.
Luiz Adriano scored a stunning five goals, including a hat-trick inside eight minutes, as the Ukranians crushed BATE Borisov away. Shakhtar became the first Champions league side to take a 6-0 lead into the lockerroom at the half. You had to feel for the beleaguered BATE keeper Sergey Chernik: he covered his face with his jersey as he glumly trudged off. Shakhtar would end up winning out 7-0 after Luiz Adriano sunk a late penalty.
Luiz Adriano also added his name to a record shared with the elite: his five-goal perfomance equalled a mark set and previosuly held exclusively by Messi.
And, while Rome wasn't built in a day, it only took 30 minutes for the Bavarians to destroy it, with Arjen Robben, Mario Goetze and Franck Ribery among the goal-scorers in what ended up being a 7-1 rout. Roma aren't exactly chopped liver: this was a real statement of intent from the Germans and almost ensured them of a place in the knockout rounds. Bayern sit top of Group E on nine points.
In fact, it was a record setting day, with 40 goals scored across the eight games, to smash the existing mark, which had stood at 36 coming into today's play. (The all-time record is 44 goals, but that is when 12 games were played simultaneously under the old format.)
But back to Spain, where Barcelona looked maddening at times in the game, perhaps realizing that they were several cuts above their young opponents. They had good reason to as it took only seven minutes for Neymar and Messi to combine, with Dani Alves starting the move with an outlet up to Messi. Passed on to the slick Ivan Rakitic with a single touch, Rakitic then returned the ball to Messi for him to charge forward and with Pedro dummying wide right, he slipped the ball out left to Neymar, for a simple shot past Jasper Cillessen.
Messi then added the second and kept up his chase for Raul's all time European scoring record, lashing home a ball from Andres Iniesta left-footed after a great run from deep. Messi simply split the defenders, raised his arm for the pass, and took it in stride to pass it into the net. Messi needs two more goals to catch Raul's total of 71 goal in the European Cup, and he's likely to get them before the group stages end this year.
But not today: Messi only lasted 65 minutes as Barca kept one eye on their big clash with Real Madrid on the weekend. With the kids coming in, the match dissipated somewhat in the second half, but Barcelona's dominance was rarely in question.
Ajax rarely made Marc-Andre Ter Stegen work at all, while Cillessen increasingly looked a forlorn figure as wave after wave of blaugrana attacks rained down. Iniesta went on a fabulous solo run that should have resulted in a goal only to see the keeper swat it away with a big mitt in somewhat lucky fashion. Cillessen was helpless on Pedro's shot from the far left but was rescued by the woodwork, much to the chagrin of the Barca forward.
Credit for that must be given to the tireless work today from Javier Mascherano, who turned in a man-of-the-match performance by simply carrying the water. Always in the way of an Ajax attempt to break the pressure, he calmly kept steering the ball back into the attacking channels.
It wasn't until the scrubs were in that Ajax were finally able to make an impact, with sub Anwar El Ghazi bundling the ball across the line after a poor lunge by Gerard Pique allowed the youngster an open net. But that seemed to be more a reflection of Barcelona's decision to ease up and save their power for their arch-rivals on the weekend than any true statement of Ajax's bona-fides.
Barcelona have been sloppy at the back to be sure, but as soon as Ajax thumbed their noses, they went right down the field and young Sandro, heralded as past of their "next wave," went down the gut and fired home the capper to the far post.
It gets no easier for the Dutch side, who are now lodged at the bottom of their group with APOEL: they must entertain Barcelona in the return leg in two weeks' time. (Of course, it also gets no easier for anyone facing Bayern or, for that matter, hapless BATE.)