First time back in Rome, facing his old team, Luis Enrique’s new team only managed to secure a point. Luis Suarez put his team in the lead midway through the first half before an Alessandro Florenzi wonder-goal tied the game up ten minutes later. Barcelona had more chances to change the score-line in the remainder of the game that Roma did, but the score remained tied at one, and both teams picked up a point to start of the new season of the Champions League.
|Shots on Target||3
Lucho fielded a fairly expected starting eleven. Marc-Andre ter Stegen started in goal, while Sergi Roberto continued to deputize for the injured Dani Alves. Gerard Pique made his first start since "the incident" in the Supercopa de España and he was joined by Jeremy Mathieu to form the center-back duo. The most used midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Andres Iniesta was also on the pitch. In attack we saw the return of the feared MSN trio.
Wearing their new third kits for the first time this season, Barcelona were forced to cope with a high Roma press early in the game. Though as soon as the Catalans passed their way to the midfield line, the Italians dropped very deep, with all eleven in dark red playing inside 30 yards of Wojciech Szczęsny's goal, at times even closer. As a result Barcelona found very little room to operate and were often forced to attempt "thread the needle" passes, which were sometimes intercepted and led to quick Roma counters.
The first shot of the game came from the defending champions, from Lionel Messi to be exact, who was celebrating his 100th Champions League appearance, already in the fourth minute, but his 25-yard attempt sailed just inches over the crossbar. The Argentine would have another good look on goal in the 12th minute, this time from much closer, but his aim was again poor.
Roma seemed content to allow Barcelona to keep the ball and wait for a poor pass that would spring a counter attack. That has often proved to be the plan that many teams prefer to use against Barcelona, to mixed results. The way it was positioned, the Roma defense looked impenetrable, but occasionally Barcelona found holes to exploit. While it continued to be difficult for the Catalans to get shots on goal, the Barça players were often getting in good positions to create danger.
And they were rewarded for their persistence in the 21st minute. Mathieu sent a lovely over the top ball to a wide open Rakitić. The defender tasked with covering the Croatian, Lucas Digne, got tangled up with Messi and was unable to pursue Rakitić, who was able to continue deep into the area. There he noticed Suarez creeping in on the back post and found him with a beautifully placed cross that Suarez headed in inches away from the goal-line.
Barcelona continued to attack, but being a goal down Roma also started playing a bit more attacking football. The visitors remained the dominant team on the pitch, but they were unable to add to their lead. In fact, it were the Italians who would against the run of play manage to tie the game at one, in stunning fashion. On a seemingly harmless play, in which Florenzi carried the ball down the right side, the right-back suddenly decided to fire on goal from the sideline from 50-yards away. Ter Stegen only followed the ball with his eyes, hoping it would miss his right post, but it cannoned into it and crossed the line.
Teams exchanged scoring chances in the remainder of the half, with Barcelona taking first crack and Roma threatening at the very end of the opening 45 minutes. Messi continued to be the main figure in Barcelona attacks as he tried his luck twice more, but the first time his aim was off while on the second attempt he was denied from close range by Szczęsny, after a great run on the right side. In the dying minutes Roma pushed forward for what could've only been described as a shock lead, but ter Stegen was able to deny Radja Nainggolan's hot-shot from 30-yards out.
Despite having an astonishing, for the Champions League at least, 72% of ball possession, Barcelona couldn't take the lead into halftime. The Catalans seemed motivated to rectify that mistake early in the second half. Just over a minute after the restart, Messi fired a powerful shot on target from inside the box, but the Argentine was again denied by Szczęsny. Seconds later, Messi found the onrushing Alba, who was able to square the ball to Suarez in the middle. The ball was slightly behind the Uruguayan who had to attempt a cheeky back-heel to get the ball on goal, but Szczęsny again made the save. Not cleanly securing the ball, Suarez saw an opening the pry the ball away from the keeper, but he instead caught the Pole on the hand, injuring him so badly that Roma were forced into a goalkeeping change. The veteran Morgan De Sanctis replaced the former Arsenal man.
But Roma were able to withstand that early pressure and Barcelona were unable to sustain that pressure over an extended period of time. Lucho also saw that his team needed some reinforcements, so he replaced Rakitić with Rafinha in the 61st minute. Rafinha's stay on the pitch was short lived, though, as he was fouled from behind after just seconds on the pitch and the Barcelona medical staff immediately signaled for a substitution. Javier Mascherano was the man who replaced the poor Brazilian who was carted off the pitch.
The flow of the game was poor for most of the second half, but after the aforementioned injury Barcelona could not get anything going for about 10 minutes. Passes were off the mark, attempted dribbles were unsuccessful and there was no energy on the pitch. Roma also didn't do much during that time, but they were able to get closer to the opposing goal than Barcelona did.
But Barcelona started to up the tempo in the 77th minute when Neymar started showing some life, after being mostly absent before. First he fired a shot from a good spot, but his attempt was blocked for a corner kick. There he was also a key figure as he nicely created some space on the left before the ball made its way to the right side from where Messi fired on goal, but was denied by the crossbar.
Two minutes later, Iniesta and Neymar beautifully combined on the left side, which allowed Iniesta space, but with him being now so close to the line, he had virtually no angle to shot from and De Sanctis was able to make the save.
That second half bright spot proved to be just that though, a bright spot, as Barcelona couldn't get a good look on goal until the fifth minute of added time. Then, Messi again found Alba, but the left-back couldn't direct the ball on goal or to a teammate and Roma managed to hold its ground, resulting in a one-all tie. It is certainly not the way Barcelona wanted to start their title defense, but a draw in Rome is not necessarily a bad result. However, that will limit Barcelona in rotating players in future games as wins will now become necessary results for topping the group.
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