Barcelona continued their perfect start to the 2017-18 Champions League campaign, disposing of Olympiacos by a score of 3-1. Dimitris Nikolaou was surprisingly the top scorer of the game, scoring two goals, one in each net, while Lionel Messi and Lucas Digne each added one for Barcelona.
On a rainy, at times stormy night in Barcelona, the Catalan side started brightly, pinning Olympiacos back from the opening whistle. Barcelona’s passing was quick and decisive despite a very tough pitch and the Greek side struggled to contain the hosts. Barcelona quickly started buzzing around the area, with most of action coming down the right side where Gerard Deulofeu, Sergi Roberto and Lionel Messi looked very lively.
But Barcelona best chance of the opening minutes didn’t come after a nice passing play, but from a corner kick. The cross was floated into the middle where Samuel Umtiti redirected the ball to the far post where a wide open sliding Luis Suarez missed badly.
Slowly but surely Barcelona continued to inch closer to the opening goal. First, in the 17th minute, Paulinho tried his luck from distance, but his shot flew over the crossbar. The very next minute Barcelona took the lead. Busquets sent a lovely over the top ball to Deulofeu on the right side. The young winger’s squared ball was slightly off the mark for Messi, but the ball handcuffed Nikolaou, who reacted poorly and beat his own goalkeeper.
The hosts continued to press forward in an effort to double the lead, and they seemed to achieve that in the 22nd minute with Paulinho scoring after a collapse of the right side of the Greek defense, but the whistle blew for offside. Replays showed it was the correct call as Suarez’s pass in the buildup went to an offside Andres Iniesta.
Two minutes later, Iniesta’s immaculate vision again found Paulinho in space with a perfect deep ball from 30 yards out. Paulinho reacted very well to the pass, quickly flicking a header on goal, lobbing goalkeeper Silvio Proto, but was denied by the crossbar.
Despite being a goal down, Olympiacos stayed true to their opening tactic of defending in numbers. They weren’t even particularly interested in committing more than two players to the rare counter attack they launched.
Even though Barcelona don’t enjoy playing against a parked bus, they didn’t mind the lack of attacking ambition from their opponents. Barcelona, on the other hand, had plenty of attacking ambition, and they created a golden opportunity in the 33rd minute. The Catalans won the ball deep before Messi received the ball about 25 yards from goal. The Argentine wasted no time and supplied a perfect through ball, playing Suarez one-on-one with Proto. However, as too many times this season, Suarez missed the easy chance.
In the 36th minute, Olympiacos took their first shot of the game. It came after a poorly cleared deep free kick. Vadis Odjidja fired from a tough spot, but his shot didn’t miss the far post by much. Immediately after, Messi dazzled again in Proto’s penalty are, but his shot from the right side was saved by keeper.
Olympiacos were given an unexpected lifeline three minutes before the halftime whistle. It all started innocently enough, with Deulofeu powering a shot on goal that was saved and rebounded right into Gerard Pique in front of goal, ricocheting into the back the net. After a moment of celebration, the whistle blew, disallowing the goal and “earning” Pique his second avoidable yellow card of the first half, this one for handball. The referee seemed convinced of the intent in Pique’s action as he was very quick to the card.
With only moments left in the first half, Ernesto Valverde didn’t make a quick substitution, but Javier Mascherano immediately started warming up. The change, however, did come during the halftime break, with the Argentine indeed joining the fold, with Deulofeu being sacrificed, which was a shame as after a couple poor games, there was plenty of life in Deulofeu this time around. He was very active throughout, but while some of his passes could’ve been more accurate, he was oftentimes left without much support in front of goal where he would’ve preferred to pass.
Playing a man up and a goal down, there still wasn’t much urgency in Olympiacos’ play. The visitors maybe steeped a foot higher up the pitch and committed one more person to the rare counter, but Barcelona still dictated play. However, the substitution of Uroš Djurdjevic for Guillaume Gillet in the 56th minute signaled a potential change. Djurdjevic was quick to introduce himself to the Camp Nou with an immediate chance, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen ultimately went untested.
Barcelona’s play understandably suffered without a third man up front, but the Catalans remained dangerous. And with Olympiacos opening up ever so slightly, hoping for a counter attack, Barcelona started to get better looks on goal after the one hour mark. The 62nd minute brought a change in score, with Barcelona doubling their lead. Scorer of the own goal, Nikolaou, brought down Messi 20 yards from goal almost right down the middle. Messi collected himself and curled the ball on target, but with it not travelling near the post, Proto was given a chance to make the save, getting his palm on the ball, but he wasn’t able to keep it from crossing the goal-line for Messi’s 100th goal in Europe.
Just two minutes later Barcelona were up by three. Messi was showcasing his brilliance deep on the right side of the penalty area, creating space for the assist with a back pass. The ball was actually meant for either Paulinho or Iniesta in the middle, but both of them missed with their sliding attempts. But as the ball continued its way back, it found Digne on the edge of the area, who wasted no time and fired on goal, beating Proto to the far post for his first ever Champions League goal.
With the game all but decided, Valverde quickly looked to his bench and prepared a substitution for Iniesta. Ivan Rakitić spelled the veteran midfielder in the 67th minute. Moments later Barcelona almost added another one to their total as three players had a chance to score. Suarez, Paulinho and Messi couldn’t beat Proto who, with some help from his defenders, defused three dangerous situations.
Olympiacos gave into their destiny, but occasionally ventured into ter Stegen’s penalty area, but without much success. Barcelona’s tempo also dropped, but there was still enough energy and will for a counter attack here and there, many of which caused problems to Olympiacos, however none of them led to a scoring change. The closest Barcelona came to scoring was in the 86th minute from a corner kick when Paulinho again showcased his strength in the air game, but this time he aimed right at the goalkeeper.
But while Barcelona didn’t change the scoreline, Olympiacos did, with Nikolaou ending Barcelona’s run without conceding a goal in the Champions League. Konstantinos Fortounis sent a perfect ball into the area from a corner kick, finding Nikolaou in between Andre Gomes and Paulinho for the consolidation goal in the 89th minute.
Regardless of the conceded goal, Barcelona remained a perfect three for three in the Champions League. Now the focus switches back to La Liga where Barcelona will host the seemingly always troublesome Malaga.