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UEFA Champions League: FC Barcelona 3-1 AFC Ajax: Match Review

Recap of the action from Barcelona's Champions League Group Stage win against Ajax.

David Ramos

Barcelona, after a scare late in the game, were able to run out deserved winners against a competitive Ajax side. Goals from Neymar, Lionel Messi and Sandro Ramirez were more than enough to secure the three points as Ajax only replied with a solitary goal from Anwar El Ghazi.






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Luis Enrique fielded just about the strongest lineup possible, quite possibly because of the fact that Barcelona couldn't really afford to lose points against Ajax if they wanted to end the Group Stage in first place. Only three regular starters were missing; Claudio Bravo was (as expected) replaced in goal by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Sergio Busquets was left out of the match squad because of an injury and was replaced by Javier Mascherano, while Jeremy Mathieu was also given a rare night off, with Marc Bartra taking his place in the heart of the defense alongside of Gerard Pique. In attack, Pedro joined the deadly duo of Messi and Neymar.

Barcelona kicked off the match from midfield and quickly started to assert their domination. Ajax allowed the hosts to control the ball, rarely pressing the ball carrier. The Dutch side were positioned quite high up the pitch, something Barcelona rarely get to play against, and the Catalans found some early success by playing through balls, quickly starting to find holes in Ajax's defense.

And in the seventh minute Barcelona were already able to capitalize, with Neymar finding the back of the net. Messi and Pedro played a quick one-two through the middle and Messi was able to find the Brazilian forward wide open on the left, and Neymar calmly slotted the ball into the far corner.

Barcelona continued to press forward immediately after taking the lead, with both Barcelona full-backs finding a lot of space on the wings. But while Dani Alves was unable to find anybody in the middle, Jordi Alba was able to create a scoring chance for Messi, but the Argentine's aim was poor from near the penalty spot.

Ajax were then able to take the ball away from Barcelona for several minutes, but couldn't get anywhere near the Barcelona goal, with the Barcelona backline doing a good job closing down space. The Dutch side also pressed more during that time and the Catalans quickly misplaced a few passes that could've led to dangerous chances had the Barcelona defense not been very sound positionally.

But Ajax's time in time Barcelona's defensive third didn't last long. As soon as Barcelona fully regained possession Ajax struggled to get the ball back, but Barcelona also didn't have as much success finding lanes through the defense. But as has been the case so often in the Lucho era, Barcelona were again deadly off an opponent's turnover. This time it was Mascherano who made the crucial interception in midfield in the 24th minute. The Argentine then quickly supplied the ball to Andres Iniesta, who brilliantly found Messi with a ball through a couple of defenders, and Messi was able to, albeit barely, beat Jasper Cillessen to double Barcelona's lead.

Five minutes later Barcelona went on yet another quick counter, with Messi again turning provider. In a play very similar to Barcelona's first goal, Messi this time found Pedro in space on the left side, but unlike Neymar, Pedro was unable to finish the chance off, hitting the outside part of the far post.

Barcelona continued to buzz around Cillessen's goal, but Ajax tightened their ranks defensively, not allowing as much anymore through the middle. The home side found the most space to operate on the right side, but Alves often looked lazy in attack, not even trying to make his way through, always sending a (inaccurate) cross into the penalty area.

Ajax, on the other hand, very rarely brought the ball across the halfway line and even rarer came close to ter Stegen's goal. Their first good look on goal didn't come until the 36th minute when Pique was too nonchalant, gifting a chance to Ricardo Kishna, but the forward was unable to get a shot off. Quickly thereafter Barcelona, Iniesta specifically, could've added to the lead. After making a magnificent run straight though the Ajax defense Iniesta attempted a chip shot over Cillessen, but the Dutch goalkeeper was able to get the slightest of touches on the ball to direct it wide of the goal.

The last few minutes of the half were spent in front of ter Stegen's goal, thanks to a couple corner kicks, but the center-back duo of Pique and Bartra was up to the task and Barcelona deservedly went into halftime with a two-goal lead.

Ajax coach, Frank De Boer, was desperate to start the second half on a good note, and in order to achieve that he brought some fresh blood onto the pitch at halftime, taking Kishna off the pitch and replacing him with Arkadiusz Milik. But the substitution didn't have the desired effect as Ajax continued to struggle to maintain possession, while Barcelona continued to attack in numbers, quickly putting Cillessen to work.

Less than five minutes after the restart Messi appeared to have added to the Barcelona lead, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside. Pedro fired a good shot on goal, but the Dutch international made a strong save, however, the rebound fell straight to Messi who tapped the ball in, but he did so from an offside position. The Argentine had another chance just three minutes later, this time after a mazy run in the area, but his shot didn't trouble the goalkeeper as it was off target.

Needing a pair of goals to tie the game Ajax opened up, which gave Barcelona plenty of space to operate in the opposing half. Often Barcelona attacked with more players then Ajax had defending, but somehow one hour of football was played and Cillessen only twice had to take the ball from his net.

Just seconds after the one hour mark preparations began for Barcelona's next match, the El Clasico on Saturday, as Enrique replaced Neymar with Sandro Ramirez. And quickly after that substitution Ajax nearly closed the gap. Once again it was Pique with a poor reaction to a cross and the "clearance" very nearly beat ter Stegen.

The next step in the process of getting ready for the El Clasico came five minutes after Neymar's substitution with Messi making his way to the Barcelona bench. The Argentine, who in yet another game this season scored a goal as well as added an assist was replaced by Munir El Haddadi.

At this point in the game Ajax started seeing more of the ball which saw the visitors spent more time around Barcelona's penalty area, but the home defense held its ground. The back four were consistently in good position while ter Stegen looked confident in collecting crosses.

Even though the two arguably most dangerous and active Barcelona players were substituted off Barcelona still looked dangerous in attack, with most of the play going through Iniesta. In the 71st minute Iniesta found Ivan Rakitić in space and the Croat unleashed a powerful 30-yarder on goal, but the shot went straight at the goalkeeper.

Lucho's third substitution in the 76th minute most likely revealed one of the starting midfielders on Saturday as Rafinha replaced the very lively Iniesta. It was Rafinha's first appearance since September 17, when the midfielder came on as a substitute against APOEL in the Champions League.

Teams exchanged half chances over the next few minutes, but neither side really managed to test the opposing goalkeeper. That changed in the 88th minute when El Ghazi was able to mercifully end a string of poor plays by the Barcelona defense. It all started with a clumsy tackle by Alves that resulted in a free kick that was never cleared more than 30-yards away from the goal, and it ended with El Ghazi finishing the play off after Bartra was only able to block the initial shot into the path of El Ghazi who escaped coverage of Pique.

El Ghazi's late goal certainly made things interesting over the last few minutes, but Barcelona were not only able to hang on to the lead, Sandro was able to finally put the game out of reach in the 94th minute with a calm finish just inside the far post.

Barcelona, however, remain in second place in the Group standings as Paris Saint-Germain, courtesy of a late goal from Edinson Cavani, secured the three points for the French side against APOEL.

Next up for Barcelona is one of the biggest games of the season. The El Clasico will be played at the Santiago Bernabeu and it arguably presents the toughest challenge Barcelona have faced so far this season. But reinforcements are on the way for the Catalan side who, for the first time this season, will be able to rely on Luis Suarez.

Roll Call

Roll Call Info
Total comments 587
Total commenters 52
Commenter list AUDUBON, Abdul95, Anders Thomassen, Andrew Ardila, Anirudh_Kul, Antonio Moreira, Ayush Tiwari, Barca Boy, Barcacatalunya, BartraFTW, Bostjan Cernensek, Catalan_Blood, CifuentesErick, Daxterflames, El_Illusionista, FCBMessi, IheartFCB, KiwiBarca, Neymar11, NoImagination90, Overrun by Suits, PG9, Petter Premberg, PlayerFan, Rajesh1101s, Richzorz, Ruubruub, Som-i-Serem, Staralfur, Steven Cordero, TheOnlyPtolemy, ThreePar, Uncharted_Almo, VarkeychanT, Varungrover, Waje.y, Willis1984, abdulla0207, ade fox, craig00000, defeaning_silence, feeya7, imran raad, iniestinho, messism, milesbarca, msalmanz, oddsbodiSkins, papant7, robyn_bird96, syredeathtrooper, viscaelbarcaiviscacatalunya
Story URLs
# Commenter # Comments
1 Anders Thomassen 63
2 Barcacatalunya 62
3 NoImagination90 57
4 craig00000 44
5 Barca Boy 40
6 milesbarca 35
7 Uncharted_Almo 34
8 Staralfur 30
9 viscaelbarcaiviscacatalunya 19
10 ade fox 18
11 Steven Cordero 16
12 syredeathtrooper 16
13 Som-i-Serem 16
14 Daxterflames 14
15 feeya7 11
16 Ayush Tiwari 11
17 Overrun by Suits 10
18 PG9 9
19 Abdul95 8
20 Anirudh_Kul 7
21 KiwiBarca 6
22 abdulla0207 5
23 CifuentesErick 4
24 msalmanz 4
25 oddsbodiSkins 4
26 FCBMessi 4
27 Catalan_Blood 4
28 BartraFTW 3
29 Richzorz 3
30 TheOnlyPtolemy 3
31 Waje.y 3
32 imran raad 2
33 robyn_bird96 2
34 Bostjan Cernensek 2
35 VarkeychanT 1
36 messism 1
37 Ruubruub 1
38 iniestinho 1
39 defeaning_silence 1
40 Rajesh1101s 1
41 Neymar11 1
42 El_Illusionista 1
43 PlayerFan 1
44 Willis1984 1
45 Petter Premberg 1
47 Andrew Ardila 1
48 papant7 1
49 Varungrover 1
50 IheartFCB 1
51 Antonio Moreira 1
52 ThreePar 1

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