It was always going to be an action packed night with four European giants in action.
Arsenal put in a brave performance but Barcelona proved to be have too much firepower in the end to effectively end the tie as Messi finally scored against Petr Cech, not once but twice. Meanwhile, Juventus fought back against Bayern to rescue a 2-2 draw in a thriller to keep the tie alive. Here are five key points to take from both games.
Arsenal’s lack of execution proves costly
There are two ways most teams set up against Barcelona: one is sitting back deep in your own half and plugging the holes to make it difficult for Barcelona to play through the final third. It is an extremely passive style which needs an incredible amount of luck but it is the safer option. The second way is more risky which is pressing high up the field on Busquets and Pique, forcing Barca out of their comfortable passing game. It can get be successful, as Celta Vigo and Deportivo La Coruna have demonstrated this season, but it can also get you destroyed if too much space is left in behind in your half for the three amigos to run onto.
Arsenal went with the sitting back tactic in the first half as Barcelona typically hogged possession but struggled to penetrate Arsenal’s defence. Arsenal put in a near perfect first half performance as their positional defensive play was perfect and they also looked a threat going forward. However their lack of execution of this game plan in the second half was costly. While it was admirable Arsenal opened up to push for a winner, it also demonstrated a common indiscipline in their game that has been punished several times.
There was no better team in the planet, perhaps in the history of the game, to punish that. Messi, Neymar and Suarez had much more joy in the second half as a result of this. In truth, with the chances they created, it could have been more than 2-0. Flamini’s reckless tackle for the penalty was his first contribution after coming off the bench and it summed up Arsenal’s night.
Arsenal need a world class striker
In fairness to Arsenal, they created enough chances going forward. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud and Ramsay all missed gilt-edged opportunities in crucial stages of the game that could have changed the reflection of things. However, Arsenal just seem to lack that ruthless edge which all the top teams have. There was never a sense of confidence that they would convert one of those chances.
Giroud is a very good striker and Welbeck showed glimpses of quality when he came on. However, Arsenal need a world class striker to elevate themselves to the next level and finish big chances in games. If Arsenal had a Suarez, Aguero, Benzema or Lewandowski level of striker, you have got to feel they would be the front runners for the title and be much more of a threat in Europe.
Barca’s midfield is a vital strength
Barca’s front three now have 93 goals between them for the season and rightly get the plaudits. However another impressive aspect of the team is another trio in midfield, Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic. Barca have dealt extremely well with the loss of the king of possession in Xavi and while there will never be anyone like Xavi, Rakitic has proved to be a more than adequate replaced. He was a very classy player at Sevilla and has taken like a duck to water in Barca’s midfield. He has everything, creativity, vision and an ability to get forward and score goals. The Croat is a very underrated player.
We all know how good captain Andrea Iniesta is. He is without a doubt one of the greatest midfielders of his generation and will go down as another Barcelona legend. The Spaniard is as good as ever and has proven to be a real leader. Iniesta has an unmatched ability on the ball.
Sergio Busquets is another unsung hero and he is a vital cog in the Barcelona machine. Arguably the best holding midfielder in world football, Busquets is both a destroyer and creator as he builds up Barca’s attacks. Outside of the front three, he is the man many teams try to stop building up attacks. Busquets quietly goes about his business and seldom has a bad game.
Bayern are a formidable team at their best
Even when you look at Bayern’s squad, you already know how good it is. They may be vulnerable in defence but they are such a strong team in midfield and attack, that weakness rarely matters. Bayern were well on top in the first half in Turin and missed a string of chances in the first half before goal machine Thomas Muller gave them a well deserved lead. Robben needs to stay fit for Bayern to win the Champions League in Guardiola’s final season. The Dutch man is one of the best wingers in the business and he showed his quality with a terrific strike to put Bayern 2-0 up.
With Robben and Douglas Costa either side of Lewandowski and a midfield of Vidal, Thiago and Alonso, Bayern are a serious force. They just need a couple of defenders back from injury to shore things up and they will take some beating. If they can get past Juve, they are second favourites behind Barcelona.
Juventus show they have a real fighting spirit
The tie looked dead and buried at 2-0, Juventus were very tentative and seemed happy to sit back and allow Bayern to dictate the game. However in the second half, the Italian champions got on the front foot and took the game to the visiting side. Juventus were good value for their 2-2 draw and even had chances to claim an advantage heading to Munich.
It’s still advantage Bayern with the away goals and their formidable home record, but Juventus are still very much alive and will not go down without a fight. It should be an intriguing second leg.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena