Barcelona 3-1 Ajax: Neymar and Messi teach Eredivisie champions a lesson
The Champions League had several massive scorelines on Tuesday, with Bayern Munich trouncing Roma, Schalke edging Sporting in a seven goal thriller and Chelsea smashing six past Maribor as 40 goals were scored across the eight matches. There could have been even more, though, particularly in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Ajax.
The shared histories of these two teams is well known throughout the footballing world and the Dutch influence on the Spanish giants has been plentiful and crucial in the building of the Camp Nou side to a European giant. But the clubs are on completely different trajectories now and, on Tuesday night, it was the Catalan club who taught the boys from Amsterdam a serious lesson in the game.
The two came head-to-head in Camp Nou just a year ago in which the Blaugrana thrashed the Eredivisie side 4-0, but this display was much worse by Ajax’s standards.
Lionel Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic were all far too much for a young, inexperienced side which is largely seen as the worst Frank de Boer has had at his disposal and one of the least potent the Dutch capital has possessed.
Ajax were completely outclassed in every way. The midfield was so easily cut through by the Spanish giants that it occasionally looked like it was in aide of Barca, rather than looking to hindering them. For the home side’s second goal of the game, Niki Zimling simply passed the ball to the nearest player in blue and red and stood still in resignation and despair. However, in that time, it had been moved on to Iniesta, who Zimling should have been marking, and the World Cup winner was able to take it on, pick out a pass to Messi, who Viergever had neglected, and the Argentine fired it in. From the first minute, they easily carved them open in the middle of the park.
The midfield left the backline completely exposed, meaning an already tame defence looked hollow. So eager to cut Messi’s path to goal as the captain lead a counterattack in the first half, Ajax’s defenders drifted towards the four-time Ballon d’Or winner, thus totally ignoring the runs of Pedro and Neymar on the other side. They were lucky to see the former miss the chance his team-mate opened up.
That kind of incredible movement from Barca and the panicking of Ajax’s defenders put the away side in a great deal of trouble throughout the game. It was a key part in Luis Enrique’s men opening the scoring, with Rakitic’s run unsettling the defence while Messi drove forward, knocking it onto Neymar who sent it curling into the net.
Then, Iniesta was able to calmly stroll towards goal in between and beyond central defenders Niklas Moisander and Joel Veltman as neither defender had any idea who they were supposed to be marking and they were lucky to be saved by the goalkeeper. It was a startlingly easy run for Iniesta and summed up just how awful and at odds the two centre-backs were.
Indeed, Ajax were lucky to go in 2-0 down at the break and were lucky not to concede soon after the break as well as Messi, Pedro and Rakitic passed up chances.
If Ajax’s defence and midfield were hollow, their attack was a mere hologram. Lasse Schone, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Ricardo Kishna could do nothing throughout the first 45 minutes. Kishna had a terrible first half. The 19-year-old was well contained by Gerard Pique and Dani Alves – coming up against those two is perhaps too much to expect for a youngster who hasn’t had a bright campaign so far. Meanwhile, the Icelandic striker was stationary and bossed around up front.
The visitors’ brightest spell in the first half consisted of three shots from outside of the box, none of which were on target, and two corners.
In the second period, Ajax were somewhat more composed in midfield, but that was mainly due to a drop in intensity from Barca as well as the removal of Niki Zimling for Jairo Riedewald – whose only other performance this season came against amateur side JOS Watergraafsmeer in the KNVB Beker. Arkadiusz Milik operated as a more mobile point of attack, but the Dutch champions remained toothless throughout.
It wasn’t until Anwar El Ghazi came on for Sigthorsson that Ajax looked more dangerous, but that was not nearly enough. The 19-year-old first put a good cross straight to Davy Klaassen who was unmarked in the box, but the midfielder’s shot was abysmal and flew well over the net.
El Ghazi took it on himself after that to change the tone of the game when he halved the deficit. The youngster was there to tap home the rebound from a Millik shot after a nice ball from Riedewald. It was De Godenonen’s first and only shot on target.
Soon after, El Ghazi looked in with a chance of levelling the score. He comfortably beat Jordi Alba with a nice piece of skill before using his strength, power and control to get through the defence. Taking it into the box, he teed up a shot but his effort was blocked by Alba who did very well to get back and make the crucial stop.
Ajax suddenly had some belief, but it was short-lived as just moments later, the ball was back in their goal, with young substitute Sandro putting the killer goal beyond Cillessen.
And with that came the final whistle to bring an end to a dismal display for Ajax. While the scoreline wasn’t as damning as last year’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Barca in Camp Nou, the performance was much worse and they were lucky not to lose by more as they headed down the tunnel having been completely schooled in the game they once mastered.