Two late goals in two minutes from Sergi Roberto and Luis Suarez gave reigning champions Barcelona a dramatic 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.
Bayer, who thumped BATE Borisov 4-1 in their group opener at the BayArena, warmed up for tonight’s match by beating Werder Bremen 3-0 on Saturday.
There was just 90 seconds between the two goals, but it knocked the stuffing out of a courageous, energetic Leverkusen side who were probably worth at least a point.
Messi had to come off in the tenth minute of a league clash against Las Palmas on Saturday when he sustained an injury in his knee; and subsequent tests confirmed that the forward will be out of action for seven to eight weeks. And though neither one is quite as good, both Neymar and Suárez are great at producing goals.
That is a nightmare for Argentina, who play four World Cup qualifiers during Messi’s injury window, and while it may lessen the number of matches Barcelona play, it also condenses the schedule.
Enrique was typically evasive about his plans for the goalkeeper position, but the vulnerability of Marc-Andre ter Stegen so far this season means that Bravo is nearly certain to return when he is fully fit.
Heading into the tournament a few months back, no one would have thought that Barcelona was going to struggle in this match.
Leverkusen’s strategy was clear from the start as pressured Barcelona up the pitch instead of hunkering down in its area.
It was unusual not to see Messi lurking with intent on the right touchline in the first half.
After the loss to Olympiacos, Arsene Wenger believed his side lacked “quality defensive concentration”, and said the opposition got a bit lucky in the match. The following corner kick did not cause any danger.
Leverkusen soon grew into the game though and had a number of decent efforts before opening the scoring after 22 minutes through Kyriakos Papadopoulos.
MF Sergio Busquets, 5 – Started the game with a couple of uncharacteristic sloppy passes when combining from the heart of midfield and did not improve. He has taken Chelsea there twice before in the competition, losing 2-1 later that year and drawing 1-1 in 2007, while they won 1-0 under Carlo Ancelotti in 2009.
Barcelona only know how to play one way, and Roger Schmidt is the same.
Suarez, who along with Neymar, uncharacteristically missed several chances during the game, celebrated in style after putting his team ahead. While the Uruguayan star didn’t quite win the game single-handedly, whether the Blaugrana would have added the three points without him is unclear.
Messi’s absence could hand youngsters Munir el Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez a chance to impress.
Ivan Rakitic headed straight at keeper Bernd Leno and then a Sandro strike was also saved, but Leverkusen continued to pose a threat. He had the right attitude, however, which is definitely a positive to build on in coming matches.
And just as worryingly, Andres Iniesta, the team’s last major game-altering playmaker with Xavi moved on and Messi injured, hobbled off with an apparent hamstring injury an hour into the game.
FW Munir El Haddadi, 7 – Substituted Sandro after 63 minutes.