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Arsenal travel to take on AC Milan at the San Siro. Do they have what it takes to get a good result against the Italian champions?
Olympique Lyonnais are headed to Cyprus with a victory, and perhaps more importantly, they have denied APOEL Nicosia an away goal. However, they won't be entirely comfortable with their one goal winning margin, and the second leg in Nicosia should be a closely contested match. Les Gones should have scored more, but will be mostly satisfied with their 1-0 victory.
The first half was mostly uneventful, though Lyon was the better side. They created a number of shooting opportunities, but their finishing was very poor. The two teams went into the half tied 0-0, with Lyon having 13 shots to APOEL's zero and 66 percent of the possession.
Lyon jumped right out on the attack and almost found a goal in the opening two minutes. Ederson picked up a through ball by Michel Bastos in the 47th minute, on which Dionisis Chiotis came off his line too early. Ederson appeared to have a simple finish on an open net, but Paulo Jorge rushed back and made a brilliant clearance on his shot.
APOEL couldn't hold on long, though. Alexandre Lacazette found the eventual winner in the 58th minute with a brilliant finish, which will be a terrific confidence boost to the youngster after he had a poor first half. Captain and central defender Cris started the move with a great run forward into the box before he laid off the ball to Lacazette. He cut inside from the left onto his right foot and chipped the ball over Chiotis, giving his team a 1-0 lead.
Gustavo Manduca had the best opportunity to get a goal back for the visitors in the 88th minute, but he had a hard left-footed shot from 12 yards out saved by Hugo Lloris. That was not only their only shot on target, but their only shot period. They will almost certainly be a bit more ambitious in the second leg.
For more on Les Gones, check out The Offside Lyon.
Barcelona and Bayer Leverkusen played a mostly uneventful first half that resulted in the Blaugranas taking a lead at the very end of the period, but the second half was considerably more exciting. Bayer put a serious scare into Barcelona and made things interesting for a bit, but they'll be headed to Camp Nou with what is more or less an impossible task. They drew level on one occasion, but Barcelona found a winner to head home up 3-1.
Alexis Sanchez scored the first two goals, and both needed brilliant assists. The first came in the first half, with Lionel Messi hitting a spectacular ball over the top of the defense to set him up for a finish between Bernd Leno's legs. The second goal, the eventual winner, was assisted by Cesc Fabregas with an absolutely wonderful through ball.
With Barcelona leading 1-0 as they came out of the locker room for the second half, the game felt like it was all but over before Bayer grabbed a stunning equalizer. Following a set piece, Vedran Corluka got to the byline and swung a great cross towards the back post. Michal Kadlec rose up above the defense and powered a great header into the back of the net, changing the game significantly.
The 1-1 scoreline didn't last long, however. The second Sanchez goal came just three minutes later, with the Bayer defense caught napping before Sanchez picked up the ball, rounded the keeper and placed it into the back of the net with ease.
Bayer would not find another goal, but they fought back valiantly. Just a minute after Barcelona took back the lead, Renato Augusto got into the box with a great run and forced a save out of Victor Valdes. In the 64th minute, Gonzalo Castro created a similar opportunity on the opposite flank and beat Valdes with a great left-footed shot, but hit the post.
Lionel Messi would eventually go on to score Barcelona's third goal, but his best bit of skill actually came on a narrow miss. In the 72nd minute, he made the Bayer defenders look silly as he easily beat three of them with an incredible dribbling move before hitting a chipped shot over Leno. He missed scoring a stunning goal by the narrowest of margins, hitting the post.
Knowing that they probably needed two goals to give themselves a chance at the Camp Nou, Robin Dutt brought off defensive midfielder Simon Rolfes for striker Stefan Kiessling. The German international forward almost rewarded his manager's faith in him with a goal just two minutes later, as he connected with a diving header, but Valdes was able to save comfortably.
Barcelona didn't exactly need a third goal to feel comfortable going home, but they were able to find it, and the tie is now all but over. In the 88th minute, Daniel Alves got into the box and had a shooting opportunity, but instead played a cross to the back post. Messi was there for the tap-in finish, securing the 3-1 victory for his team.
For more on the Blaugranas, check out FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes.
...and that's that. Bayer Leverkusen have put in a brave display this half, but Barcelona have now scored three and this match is over. So too is the tie, in all probability.
Dani Alves isn't picked up by the Leverkusen defence, and he's allowed to race clear down the left side. It looks like the right back is going to shoot at Bernd Leno's goal, and the keeper comes out to cut down his angles, but instead Alves waits for a lung-busting run from Lionel Messi and delivers a gorgeous cross to the Argentinian. Messi can't help but put the ball into an empty net to make it 3-1, and that will probably wrap this entire tie up.
Bayer Leverkusen respond with two substitutions, bringing off Andre Schurrle and Vedran Corluka for Karim Bellarabi and Danny da Costa respectively. It's not going to matter much, but might as well get the youngsters some time, eh?
Barcelona might have seen their goal threatened rather more often than they'd have liked by Bayer Leverkusen in this half, but they're still a rather potent attacking force. Alexis Sanchez has their two goals so far and he very nearly makes it three off a corner, sending in a glancing header that Bernd Leno does very well to save with a flying effort to his left. Sergio Busquets is just unable to get on the rebound to turn it in. Sanchez definitely isn't going to get his hattrick, incidentally - he's just been pulled off for Isaac Cuenca.
In other news, Barcelona have their first booking of the match as Thiago Alcantara attempts to challenge Manuel Freidrichs in the air the only way he knows how - committing an assault. It's not pretty or clever and Craig Thomson has little option but to show the youngster a yellow card. Still 2-1... er, hang on.
It's Bayer Leverkusen's turn to make a move now, and, 2-1 down, they opt for an attacking one. Striker Stefan Kiessling replaces one of the three central midfielders in Simon Rolfes. It's a positive switch, and it very nearly pays off immediately.
Barcelona are once again sloppy at the back, and Gonzalo Casto ends up with the ball in space on the left. The winger lifts in an inch-perfect cross, and it's Kiessling who manages to get on the end of it, racing past Carles Puyol to power a head towards Victor Valdes's goal. It's too close to the goalkeeper, however, and he can save. That, obviously, would have been the perfect start to Kiessling's day.
Meanwhile we have a bit of an odd booking to report. Casto and Sergio Busquets tangle on the Leverkusen left, and both end up landing heavily on the track that circles the playing field. Busquets, as is his wont, makes a big deal about it, and Castro, who was probably the more-wronged party, is incredulous as he's booked by Craig Thomson. The BayArena faithful are rather displeased by this.
And now we have Barcelona substitution number two as Adriano wanders off to be replaced by Pedro. Adriano's clearly injured - he takes a while to hobble off and looks to be in considerable pain. Other than that, there's not much going on in the actual match at the moment. Barcelona are having one of their spells where they keep the ball in the middle third without actually doing anything with it, while Bayer Leverkusen look to be taking a rest from their manic pressing.
Of course, as I write that, the Barcelona machine uncoils and throws a dart of a pass straight through the heart of the Leverkusen defence for Thiago Alcantara to run onto. The young midfielder nearly gets on the end of it, but Bernd Leno's desperate slide denies him. Barcelona aren't done attacking, however - Lionel Messi puts in a quite brilliant solo performance, skipping past Michal Kadlac and then Simon Rolfes and then attempting a really cheeky chip from a tight angle. It hits the post and rolls straight to Leno, who claims gratefully.
We've had our first substitution of the match between Bayer Leverkusen and Barcelona, and it's the Catalans who've made the switch. Andres Iniesta, who's been a little way from his best at the BayArena, has been removed with young star Thiago Alcantara replacing him. That's probably not a tactical switch from Pep Guardiola (although I can't imagine that he's happy with the way the half's going) but instead it's a matter of resting Iniesta after securing two away goals.
Meanwhile on the pitch, Bayer Leverkusen have just hit the post! Sergio Busquets uncharacteristically gives away possession in his own half and allows a quartet of black shirts to roam forwards. They play a slick passing move before eventually opening up the left for Gonzalo Castro, and despite Victor Valdes's best efforts it looks like it's going in only to carom off the base of the far post. That's really unfortunate for Leverkusen, who've been very positive this half. It's 2-1 to Barcelona at the BayArena.
See? It's so much better when you try! Bayer Leverkusen, who had previously looked like a team completely disinterested in playing football, started the second half on the attack and have something to show for their efforts - a an equalising goal against Barcelona!
The visitors' defence is at sixes and sevens and Leverkusen are unlucky not to get a penalty when Lars Bender goes down in the box, but they hold onto possession and work the ball out to Vedran Corluka on the right wing. The fullback's subsequent cross is lovely, and it's met by Michal Kadlec's head. The left back nods the ball across Victor Valdes and straight into the back of the net to make it 1-1.
Granted, that scoreline doesn't last for long as Alexis Sanchez once again races clear of the defence, rounds Bernd Leno and scores his second goal of the match to make it 2-1 three minutes later, but this is at least resembling a fun game now, with Leverkusen nearly managing to equalise again shortly thereafter.
We're back at the BayArena, where Bayer Leverkusen have kicked off the second half. It came as something of a surprise that their first instinct was not to give the ball straight to a mint shirt, which they've been making a habit of tonight, but the hosts actually manage to mount something approximating a threatening attack, although it's eventually thwarted by the offside flag.
There's another opportunity to take the game to Barcelona a couple of minutes later when Renato Augusto (he's playing) is fouled about 45 yards from goal. The free kick is swung in and Carles Puyol isn't able to clear, allowing Manuel Freidrichs to nearly nip in around the back. It's a difficult chance, and the big defender's unable to get the shot away. That said, the positioning on the set piece from Leverkusen was appalling, with nobody attacking the ball until it flew completely clear of the Barca defence. At least they're giving it a go, however - another half like the first would have bored at least 400,000 people to death.
Olympique Lyonnais are doing plenty of possessing the ball and plenty of shooting at the APOEL Nicosia net, but their finishing has been very poor thus far. There's little excuse for them to not be up a goal at halftime of their UEFA Champions League match at the Stade de Gerland, but they will be happy with their performance outside of their shooting. It's 0-0 at halftime, but Les Gones have been the far superior side.
The worst offender so far has been youngster Alexandre Lacazette. He starred at the Under-20 World Cup in the summer where he scored off his scoring touch and he's scored seven times for Lyon's senior team, but he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn in the first half. He had two poor misses and put another good opportunity right into the hands of Dionisis Chiotis.
Lyon's best opportunities came in the 25th minute during a crazy sequence. Lisandro Lopez started the move with a dribble into the box where he was shoved, but no penalty was given. The ball fell to right back Anthony Réveillere, who had a shot saved by Chiotis. The ball deflected out to Michel Bastos who unloaded on a rocket, but his shot deflected off the head of defender Paulo Jorge and went out for a corner, on which Lyon did nothing.
APOEL don't actually have a single attempted shot, but they will be okay with that if Lyon never find their shooting legs. A 0-0 draw will suit the Cypriots just fine.
For more on Les Gones, check out The Offside Lyon.
Barcelona lead Bayer Leverkusen at halftime at home, leaving the color commentator on the international English-language feed of the game to ask whether or not Bayer should even bother to go to the Camp Nou. Now that the Blaugranas have an away goal? No, not really, but the hosts will probably play out these final 45 minutes today, then travel as well. Their UEFA Champions League life is just about gone, as Barcelona leads 1-0 at halftime.
Bayer unsurprisingly started the game in a very defensive fashion, but it was a bit startling that they didn't look the least bit interested in attacking. Their midfield was more or less a line five yards in front of the defense, and lone striker Andre Schürrle played most of the first half inside of his own half of the pitch.
Barcelona struggled to create chances for most of the half because of this setup. Their best chance before the goal came in the 13th minute, when Lionel Messi played a great give-and-go with Daniel Alves. It appeared that Messi was going to be set up for a tap-in, but Daniel Schwaab made a great last second clearance.
The goal finally came in the 41st minute, with Messi providing a fantastic assist for Alexis Sanchez. With the Bayer defense somehow too far up the pitch, Messi hit a fantastic pass over the top of them for Sanchez to run onto. He burned the back four and got onto the ball, then slipped it between the legs of Bernd Leno and into the back of the net.
For more on the Blaugranas, check out FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes.
There we go. Barcelona have scored, and while the visiting team might not deserve a lead Bayer Leverkusen definitely do deserve to be behind for an absolutely awful display. It's a first UEFA Champions League goal for former Udinese man Alexis Sanchez, who's set free by an absolutely superb pass by Lionel Messi, who looped a ball over the top for Sanchez to sprint onto.
The Chilean, accompanied by Cesc Fabregas in a two-on-zero, sauntered into the box and while it looked like a sprinting Michal Kadlec might be able to get a last-ditch challenge in, Sanchez was having none of that. His finish was superb, going straight through a helpless Bernd Leno's legs and into a postage stamp at the far corner. So that's 1-0 Barcelona and Bayer Leverkusen have failed to make it to halftime with the match scoreless. If the hosts keep playing like this, the tie is over.
Whoa! Bayer Leverkusen attack! Five black shirts enter the Barcelona defensive zone and although they don't really do a whole lot, they still give Carles Puyol something to worry about as he has to intercept a pass (admittedly, one to nobody) in his own penalty area. Perhaps something will happen at some point soon?
Something does sort of happen a touch later - the hosts ping a long ball down the right for Andre Schurrle to chase, and Victor Valdes comes out of the box to clear, falling over in the process. Leverkusen try to take the throw-in quickly to exploit the fact that the Barca keeper is slow in getting back to his net, but not everyone's on the same page and Simon Rolfes wastes possession.
After that, Lionel Messi nearly makes life more interesting by bursting into Bernd Leno's box, checking back, and sending a weak shot rolling straight into the young keeper's arms. For all of Barcelona's dominance, that's the first time Leno's really had a shot to save, but there's a free kick now in promising position after Schurrle tangles with Adriano... and nothing happens. Bah.
Perhaps I've just been watching the same five minutes of this game over and over again. Surely that makes more sense than this match just being a cavalcade of mediocrity from two quite good teams. To summarise what I've seen of what's supposedly half an hour of football:
Barcelona have the ball at the back. They then play it forward where Bayer Leverkusen's line of five does a fine imitation of the Maginot Line in being completely bypassed. Eventually something goes slightly wrong - sloppy play, offside, an unlucky bounce, Daniel Schwaab getting involved - and Bayer Leverkusen get the ball. They then lose it inside their own half within about three touches, because they can't pass worth beans.
Has anything else happened? Am I stuck in a weird time loop missing an otherwise excellent match? Please advise, because I think I can get time off for being the victim of space-time's rather fickle warp and weft.
I'm sorry, but this is crap. Normally teams playing ultra-defensively against Barcelona look like they can do something on the counterattack. Bayer Leverkusen don't look like they know what a counterattack is. The hosts win a free kick a little way into the Barcelona half and promptly hoof it straight out of play. Whether they meant to do that or not is unclear, but that was a complete waste of an opportunity to test the centre back pairing of Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano. Dire.
The defending is working ok so far, though. Barcelona haven't had a clean look at Bernd Leno's goal 25 minutes in, although that's at least partially because they've been far sloppier than usual. If Leverkusen could actually do something with the ball once they've won it, though, that'd be super. Right now they can't even complete a basic pass without it going to a green shirt.
So as we've already noted, Bayer Leverkusen are playing incredibly defensively. They're running a flat back four just behind a midfield five and looking for all the world like they're being run by Alex McLeish and faced with a team full of unstoppable football demons (the second part might be true considering that they're hosting Barcelona). Being defensive is all well and good, but not only are the hosts sitting deep - they're letting their opponents run through them almost at will.
The only person actually doing any real defending appears to be Daniel Schwaab, who's already on a booking. The centre half just about manages to prevent Lionel Messi scoring at the end of a pass from Alexis Sanchez and then pulls off an important interception in a similar position a few minutes later. Leverkusen have mounted one attack, which saw on-loan right back Vedran Corluka pass the ball straight over Victor Valdes's byline. I think that sums up their day so far pretty well. Still 0-0 at the BayArena.
We've got our first booking of the Champions League match between Bayer Leverkusen and Barcelona, and unsurprisingly it goes to the hosts. The ball pops loose on the Leverkusen right and Daniel Schwaab slides in to clear, only to see Eric Abidal get there first. The left back ends up getting wiped out and Craig Thompson has little option but to wave a yellow card in Schwaab's direction.
The free kick is well worked by Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Dani Alves trying an elaborate long-range one-two but Schwaab gets a flick on Alves's searching diagonal and juuuust about manages to avert the danger. However, with Leverkusen posing absolutely no threat on the ball, it just looks like a matter of time until Bernd Leno's guard is breached. The hosts simply cannot allow Barcelona to attack nonstop, because they will break through at some point. Hopefully we see some more positivity soon.
We're off and running at the BayArena, where Barcelona are wearing a colour that makes Lionel Messi looks like a particularly delicious scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream. They managed to hold the ball for the entirety of the first two minutes until Bayer Leverkusen managed to win a free kick on the edge of their box, then get the ball back less than twenty seconds later.
That's really not how the hosts will have wanted to start the match - so far this year teams have had success against Barcelona by actually attacking them rather than sitting back and trying for the counterattack. Leverkusen appear to be doing the latter, defending deep with a bank of five in front of four (Andre Schurrle is sitting on his own up front), which means that until their opponents get close to the final third they're just allowing the Catalans to do whatever they want. That's not really ideal.
Bayer Leverkusen are playing no true central striker against Barcelona, while the visitors are without Xavi due to a calf problem. The Cules are going with a slightly conservative lineup by their standards, starting Adriano in their front three to protect Daniel Alves. Gerard Pique is not fit, so Javier Mascherano plays in defense. Andre Schürrle will act as Bayer's striker and has played there before, but is primarily a wide player. They've gone with an attacking 4-2-3-1 for most of the season, but with Sidney Sam out and Barca coming to town, they've changed things up. Here are the lineups.
Bayer Leverkusen starting lineup (4-3-3): Bernd Leno; Michal Kadlec, Manuel Friedrich, Daniel Schwaab, Vedran Corluka; Stefan Reinartz, Simon Rolfes, Lars Bender; Gonzalo Castro, Andre Schurrle, Renato Augusto.
Substitutes from: David Yelldell, Stefan Kiessling, Bastian Oczipka, Omer Toprak, Michael Ortega, Karim Bellarabi, Danny da Costa.
FC Barcelona starting lineup (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Eric Abidal, Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas; Adriano, Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi.
Substitutes from: Jose Manuel Pinto, Pedro, Thiago Alcantara, Jonathan dos Santos, Marc Bartara, Sergi Roberto, Isaac Cuenca.
Kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. from the BayArena in Germany. You can catch the game on FOX Soccer Channel on the USA and on Sportsnet regional networks in Canada.
For more on the Blaugranas, check out FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes.
APOEL Nicosia has one surprise in their lineup for their UEFA Champions League match against Olympique Lyonnais, and it's a pleasant one. Paulo Jorge has been declared fit and will start in defense for the visitors. Lyon captain Cris returns to defense for his side. Surprisingly, neither Bafetimbi Gomis or Jimmy Briand will start for Lyon, as youngster Alexandre Lacazette gets a start. Here are the lineups.
Olympique Lyonnais Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Cissokho, Cris, Kone, Reveillere; Gonalons, Kallstrom; Bastos, Ederson, Lacazette; Lisandro
APOEL Nicosia Lineup (4-4-1-1): Chiotis; Boaventura, Paulo Jorge, Kaká, Pursaitides; Hélder Sousa, Nuno Morais, Hélio Pinto, Charalambides; Tričkovski; Aílton
Kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local time from Stade de Gerland in Lyon, France. You can catch the game on FOX Soccer Plus and FSN local networks in the USA, Sportsnet World in Canada, and Sky Sports 4 in the USA.
For more on Les Gones, check out The Offside Lyon.
If there's one team left in the Champions League with the capacity to surprise, it'd have to be APOEL Nicosia. The Cypriots weren't expected to do much of anything in a group that featured FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St. Petersburg, but they ended up winning the thing (albeit unconvincingly). Now they get to face Lyon, who were even more unconvincing until the second half of their final group stage game against Dinamo Zagreb, which they won in rather emphatic fashion to finish second on goal difference.
All of that leaves Lyon fans, such as Lyon Offside's Inara, in a rather tricky place. They know they probably should beat their opponents, but with APOEL's ability to kill giants and Lyon's ability to kill themselves (see the home loss at Caen last weekend) this match could all go horribly wrong for the Ligue 1 side.
[It’s] really hard to predict just what’s going to happen tomorrow. APOEL could do a lot of damage. Caen wasn’t even trying to win last weekend, and somehow they did on Lyon’s home soil. Naturally, APOEL will want more. It also doesn’t help that Lyon periodically lose concentration midway through the game, as if the players forget for a moment they’re playing football.
If their attention wanders for even a second, APOEL will be waiting to punish them. That being said, if Lyon play with the same fire and spirit as they did against Zagreb (in the second half. I think they were sleeping in the first), it’s possible they may even qualify for the quarter-finals tomorrow. It’s a long shot, but you never really know with Lyon.
If Lyon show up to play, all should be well, at least until the second leg in Nicosia. APOEL have done well to get this far, but they've also been forced to ride their luck, and there's not much reason to think that'll continue. Perhaps Lyon can get their season properly back on track here.
When you think Barcelona in Europe recently, you think of an all-conquering force. Since their Champions League win in the 2008/09 season, every team that's met up with Pep Guardiola has been the underdogs. On the one occasion that they've lost since then, it was a huge shock. Barcelona are the team, and have been for the past few years.
Fear, then, is not something you'd normally associate with Barca fans. However, this season hasn't been going very well, and doubts are creeping into the mind of Arron Duckling, of Barca Blaugranes. Arron cites the away form of the defending champions as a reason he's a little bit nervous going into the game:
Bayer Leverkusen are on a run of three straight home wins in the prestigious competition, but they only have one win from their last six league matches. On the other hand, Barcelona have managed an average of four goals per game away from home in the UCL, but are on a run of three away games without a win. The formbook is hinting at a close match, and I have to admit, I am pretty nervous ahead of [the match].
The BayArena may be a small ground, but 30,000 Leverkusen fans will create a hostile atmosphere in the hope it knocks the Blaugrana off their game. Barcelona will be looking to escape with as favourable a result as possible, or at least an away goal to their name. Both sides have an injury problem; the two teams are actually incredibly evenly matched, unless Pep Guardiola’s side decides to turn up tomorrow.
Personally, I think Arron's a little bit more worried than is really rational - Barca are a much better team than Leverkusen and should manage to beat them fairly handily with a full-strength squad. However, there's something to the idea that the swagger's no longer really present in Pep Guardiola's side. Perhaps they can re-establish it with a strong run in Europe this year.
Olympique Lyonnais face APOEL Nicosia on Tuesday in what is possibly the most unpredictable UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.
The Champions League is back! Barcelona kick us off with a visit to Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.