Neymar and Luis Suarez lead Barcelona to victory over BATE Borisov
There were no doubts about the outcome at the Camp Nou. One brief glance at the disparity and the history between Barcelona and BATE Borisov reinforced the point. Only the extent of the labor and the margin of victory offered any semblance of intrigue on the march to the points.
In that strict sense, Barcelona encountered considerably more resistance than expected en route to this 3-0 victory on Wednesday. Neymar ended a half-hour of toil from the penalty spot to claim the expected lead. Luis Suarez confirmed the victory when he collected a Neymar pass and prodded inside the near post on the hour, while Neymar tucked home a late third to punctuate the victory.
This triumph came at a cost after Ivan Rakitic limped off with a right calf injury after 20 minutes. Rakitic's exit marked the fourth injury to a Barcelona midfielder in four Champions League games and underscored the extent of the selection issues encumbering the club now. Those issues exerted no influence on this result, but they piled up yet again with one eye on the Clasico on Nov. 21.
BATE outlined the terms of its dogged stand in the early stages. All of the usual measures -- congesting the center of the field, dropping players behind the ball and waiting for the right time to counter -- rose to the fore here. BATE implemented them with some repute in the early stages.
The recalcitrance reduced the exposure to Neymar and Luis Suarez, though Sergey Chernik rushed off his line to block the Brazilian after a neat series of passes played him through. It even produced one genuine chance after Mikhail Gordeychuk prodded Thomas Vermaelen into conceding a foul on the edge of the penalty area. Igor Stastevic stung Marc-André ter Stegen's hands with his resulting free kick as BATE nearly secured a first goal against Barcelona.
BATE's relatively bright start eventually petered out as Barcelona managed the game without proving particularly threatening. The balance left BATE with scant margin for error inside its own half. Nemaja Milunovic highlighted it by turning his clearance just wide of the near post, while Filip Mladenovic reinforced the peril by conceding the fateful penalty just before the half-hour.
Mladenovic dropped his guard ever so slightly and permitted Munir El Haddadi -- the chosen replacement for Rakitic with Sergi Roberto dropped into midfield -- to dash behind him. There were plenty of men behind the ball to halt Munir's run, but Mladenovic took matters into his own hands with a careless pull around the neck to bundle Munir to the ground. The inevitable penalty award soon followed with Neymar tasked to dispatch it with a brief run-up and a cool finish straight down the middle.
The manner of the breakthrough illustrated the difficulties encountered in that first half. Barcelona enjoyed plenty of the ball without carving BATE open enough to profit from it. Neymar captured the dynamic appropriately as he twisted to head Dani Alves' inviting cross onto the top of the net on the stroke of halftime.
The wait for the second goal -- more of a gloss than a requirement, even after a BATE penalty shout went unheeded shortly after play resumed -- lasted until the hour. Once again, Neymar and Suarez instigated it.
Much like this performance, there were few adornments to accompany the necessities. Neymar collected on the left side of the penalty area and squared through a couple of BATE defenders to Suarez in the middle. Suarez ducked past one defender to create enough space to poke inside the near post.
Suarez's ruthless intervention ended the exercise as a competitive fixture and shifted the calculus toward the extent of the BATE damage. It totaled just one more goal as Suarez raced clear on the right and slid for Neymar to turn into the vacated net seven minutes from the end.
The margin of victory reflected Barcelona's superiority without casting aside BATE's contributions to the game. This exercise required diligence and patience from Barcelona, even if the end result was never in doubt.