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UCL: FC Barcelona 4 - 0 Ajax: Match review

A review of Barcelona's relatively comfortable victory over Ajax in the opening round of this season's Champions League. A hat-trick from Lionel Messi and a solitary goal from Gerard Piqué earned Barcelona all three points.

David Ramos

Barcelona couldn't have hoped for a better result in their opening Champions League game. Having been drawn against both Milan and Celtic, who beat Barcelona last season, Tata Martino would've been eager to get as many points as quickly as possible. The coach elected to leave Xavi and Pedro on the bench with the weekend's fixture perhaps on the back of his mind.

The game started as a fairly even contest between the two sides, with Barcelona enjoying the majority of possession but unable to create any real clear goalscoring opportunities. Neymar started the brightest and linked well with Andrés Iniesta as Barcelona continued to probe down the left side of the field. It was Neymar who had the first real chance of the evening, with Iniesta pulling away a defender allowing the Brazilian summer signing to get his shot away which was saved by the keeper.

The team was on occasion guilty of over-playing during the early stages but eventually broke the deadlock with Lionel Messi's free kick in the 21st minute. The free kick was won by Messi just outside of the area and the Argentine grabbed the ball immediately to set up his shot. The result was a sweetly struck effort that curled past the wall before hitting the inside of the post on it's way to nestling in the net.

After the goal, Ajax succeeded more midfield space to Iniesta and Fàbregas who had up to that point found it hard to attack centrally. Barcelona continued to probe and look for chances but ended the first half with just the one goal.

The second half marked a significant change in Barça's tempo. The boys in blue and red had clearly been given an instruction to move faster, pass faster and move the ball faster. Causing Ajax to often be left chasing shadows, which allowed Barcelona more freedom which, as it usually does, led to Barcelona goals.

Messi doubled his and Barcelona's goal tally just nine minutes after the restart with a finessed shot just inside the area. The chance came from a quick counterattack led by Sergio Busquets which resulted in finding Messi with too much room near the area. The Argentine steadied himself before placing the ball past a helpless Vermeer.

The three points looked assured as Barcelona continued to create chances. Cesc Fàbregas found himself with space inside the box but instead of taking a shot, he elected to return the ball to Lionel Messi. A move that was too predictable and Ajax quickly smothered the Barça number 10.

Dani Alves ventured forward as usual and produced a sublime cross which just failed to reach a lurking Neymar at the back post. Neymar continued to look dangerous on the left wing, intercepting a long pass before charging at the defenders. The move looked promising but Ajax defended well as a group.

Not long after Barcelona's second, they scored their third. A chipped through ball from Neymar found a rogue Gerard Piqué in the opposition box and the tall central defender nodded past the keeper to score his first goal of the season and Barcelona's third of the night in the 68th minute.

Looking for his hat-trick, Messi tried an ambitious knee shot that just went wide of the post. A ball whipped in at him from Neymar, left Messi no choice but to attempt to steer the ball with his knee and had the ball gone a couple of inches to the right, it would've been declared one of Messi's best goals ever.

Dani Alves then broke away from the Ajax defence and looked set to score Barcelona's fourth, but the flying full-back was quickly closed down by Vermeer and the chance came to nothing.

But Barça fans were not disappointed for too long, as Messi completed his hat-trick in the 74th minute. Hitting the ball from the edge of the area to complete a bad night for Ajax and also level with Cristiano Ronaldo as the competition's top scorer.

Ajax's night went from awful to a nightmare just a few moments later when Javier Mascherano's reckless challenge earned them a penalty. But Victor Valdes' guessed right and dived to his right to make sure he wasn't forgotten as one of the heroes of this match.

A convincing 4-0 win to open the Champions League, a result Martino would probably have bitten your hand off for. Barcelona shook off some early rustiness and produced a second half display of the quality which we have come to expect from this side. All in all a performance the player's can be proud of.

Next up for Barcelona is Rayo Vallencano away on Saturday!

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