UCL: Messi, Barcelona top Arsenal; Juventus comes back on Bayern
There was late drama in both Champions League ties Tuesday. Lionel Messi continued to haunt Arsenal as Barcelona won 2-0 on a pair of Messi goals in London. Meanwhile, in Turin, Bayern Munich threw away a 2-0 lead and settled for a 2-2 draw against Juventus, though the German side will bring an away-goals edge with it to the return leg next month.
Here is what caught our eye from a Super Tuesday of Champions League action:
Player of the Day: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Sixteen seconds. That was the time it took for Arsenal to swing in a cross toward the Barcelona area, Gerard Pique to head it clear, Andres Iniesta to volley it forward, Luis Suarez to nutmeg a defender to find Neymar and for the Brazilian to burst into the Arsenal area and square it for Messi to score.
There were 20 minutes left to play and Arsenal was starting to push players forward, and that was when the world's best player punished the Gunners. Before then, the M-S-N star trio had rarely threatened; indeed, Barcelona had not been at its fluent best as Arsenal defended deep and in numbers, and especially in the first half, made life difficult for the visitor.
If it was a quiet game by Messi standards, there were some notable achievements: that opening strike was his first goal past Petr Cech in seventh meetings. After Cech had shut him out for 545 minutes, it was only another 12 minutes before Messi made it two. Mathieu Flamini's first touch after coming off the bench was to hack down Messi in the area (after Per Mertesacker's failed clearance), and the Argentine elected to take the penalty himself.
His last spot kick against Cech was decisive, in the 2012 Champions League semifinal, when he waited for the keeper to move first and ended up hitting the crossbar. For all Barcelona's penalty problems this season–it had missed eight of the previous 16–Messi picked his spot and made no mistake.
It could have been worse for Arsenal: the front three clicked into life and Luis Suarez hit the post while Neymar had a point-blank header saved by Cech late on. Arsenal will be left ruing the chances it squandered–Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the first half, and Olivier Giroud in the second–but two mistakes, the failure to track Neymar's run and the ugly challenge on Messi, cost it dear. At this level, a player like Messi will always take advantage.
Moment of the Day: Stefano Sturaro's equalizer
It was a pulsating comeback from Juventus, who looked out of the competition after Arjen Robben produced a trademark cut inside from the right wing and fired it in with his left foot to put Bayern 2-0 up and seemingly cruising in Turin. At that moment, we wondered if this might rank up there with Bayern's games against Wolfsburg (5-1) and Arsenal (5-1) this season, and Roma away (7-1 in October 2014) and Porto home (6-1) last season. Bayern had been so dominant and in the first half (save for one chance from ex-Bayern forward Mario Mandzukic, who was clearly fired up), and Gigi Buffon was by far the busier goalkeeper, keeping out efforts from Diego Costa, Thomas Muller, Arturo Vidal and Robert Lewandowski before Muller opened the scoring.
As it turned out, Bayern paid the price for being less than clinical in front of goal. Juventus pulled one back when Joshua Kimmich, a midfielder playing at center back–who was so confident in the first half that he chipped the ball over Paul Pogba in his own area and collected it on his other side–gifted the ball away to allow Paulo Dybala to score his first European goal this season.
Juventus manager Maxi Allegri then made two substitutions that made a difference: Sturaro for Sami Khedira and Alvaro Morata for Dybala. Bayern lost its composure and Juventus pushed forward: Juan Cuadrado and Pogba both went close before Morata headed the ball across goal for Sturaro to bundle it home. It's still advantage Bayern due to the away-goal edge, but Juventus has the momentum.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Bayern injuries take their toll
For just over an hour, Bayern’s defense did a pretty good job considering there was only one actual defender among them. Any team would miss Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Holger Badtsuber and Medhi Benatia (who came on as a late sub), but it was only when Kimmich, brilliant up to that moment, miscontrolled a ball and Juventus pounced, that the injury curse came back to haunt the visitor.
From then on, Bayern’s defense lacked organization, composure and communication; as you might expect after so many changes. Injuries have been a regular theme since Pep Guardiola has been in charge. Team doctor Volker Braun reportedly blamed the Spaniard for rushing players back, while a year ago, Guardiola fell out with club doctor Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt, who quit after 38 years at the club.
If Bayern creates as many chances as it did again in the second leg, it should still progress, but if the team wants to win this competition, the injury issue will need to be resolved.
How the Second Legs Shape Up
Juventus could have finished top of its group had it avoided a Matchday Six defeat against Sevilla, and it paid the price for that with the draw that most teams feared. It could have been as good as out, so at least it travels to Munich with some hope, even if the first hour warned that Bayern on its game is a dangerous beast. But Juventus showed superb character and fitness in that last half hour; it may be an outsider, but still has a chance.
You could hardly say the same of Arsenal, who at 0-0 might have fancied pulling off a shock at Camp Nou. Even at 1-0 the tie is not quite over, but Barcelona’s second goal was a killer blow. Arsene Wenger criticized his team after the game, calling his players "average" and "naïve." His job is to prepare for Sunday’s important league game against Manchester United; with a European exit looming, winning the Premier League has to be the priority now.