Barcelona started their road to a second straight UEFA Champions League trophy with a disappointing 1-1 draw against AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico, and also lost midfielder Rafinha Alcântara with what seems to be a serious knee injury. Here's a few takeaways from a bittersweet night in Italy:
3 Things we Learned
1. Ivan Rakitic is in bad, bad, shape. It wasn't the first, or the second, or the third game this season in which Rakitic has been in poor form. He had a few bright spots against Atlético Madrid, but he wasn't consistent. Same story in Rome: other than the deflected assist to Luis Suárez's goal, it was another subpar performance for the Croatian midfielder. His passing was terrible, and he created a few counter-attacks for the opposition by attempting inaccurate passes through the middle of the park with no Barça player remotely close to the spot he was passing the ball to. He was rightfully substituted early in the second half, but with Rafinha's injury, his starting slot won't be in question for a while. But he better work hard and regain his awesome self ASAP, otherwise Barça's thin midfield will be in trouble.
2. Neymar Jr. is getting better. Let's just wait a little bit more. The Brazilian star looked lost for about 70 minutes, but the team was fairly dominant through that stretch, so his quiet performance wasn't too harmful. But when Roma really parked the bus and Barça needed him, Neymar woke up and had a very impressive ending to the game, serving as an escape valve due to Roma's fierce marking on Lionel Messi. Ney combined really well with Andrés Iniesta and Jordi Alba on the left side, and the three came dangerously close to the game-winning goal. Eventually, because of little details here and there, Neymar couldn't find the net, but he showed up. His journey to match fitness is far from complete, but he's showing glimpses of that in a few key moments.
3. If Rafinha is out for a long time, then Samper HAS to be called up. There's no reason to delay Sergi Samper's first team promotion. The team needs depth in the midfield already, and if Rafinha Alcântara's knee injury is really serious and will cause him to miss a lot of time, then there's no excuse. Samper is first-team product without a doubt, and he needs world-class competition to develop himself into the player we all know him to be. Luis Enrique loves Gerard Gumbau, and that uncoditional love is laughable since Gumbau is nowhere near as talented as Samper. Enrique might have chosen the patient route with Sergi, but that call needs to happen. NOW. Just do it, Lucho. I swear you won't regret it.