Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw away at AS Roma in their Champions League opener on Wednesday. They broke the deadlock through Luis Suárez midway through the first half, only for Alessandro Florenzi to equalise 10 minutes later with one of the tournament's all-time great goals, smashing the ball in from just inside his own half. That was how the match ended, with the hosts' impressive rearguard display earning them a deserved point.
The game got off to a bright start, with Lionel Messi firing a venomous effort just over the crossbar inside five minutes. However, it wasn't all one-way traffic, with a couple of early bursts from Roma winger Mohamed Salah keeping Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba on his toes. Just as predicted, Barça dominated possession, with their hosts looking to sit back and hit them on the counter-attack.
Unfortunately for Roma, their final ball was invariably lacking, and it was only a matter of time before Barça found theirs. It took 21 minutes to be precise, when an injury to Lucas Digne gave Ivan Rakitić room to fire a great cross into the penalty area. Luis Suárez couldn't miss from point-blank range, and powered a powered a header into an empty net. 1-0 to the visitors.
The worry was that Roma's inexperienced defence would crumble, but they held firm. Indeed, right-back Alessandro Florenzi even managed to score the equalising goal just past the half-hour -- and in spectacular circumstances. The Italian international was under pressure out on the flank when he spotted Barça keeper Marc-André ter Stegen off his line, but nevertheless managed to punt the ball over his head and just inside the far post. It was a truly spectacular strike, and the Olimpico erupted.
Barça responded by seeing even more of the ball, but Roma's defence stayed strong in the face of constant pressure.
It was a similar story early in the second half, when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny got down to keep out a Messi snapshot. He was called into action again by Suárez moments later, and sustained an injury in the process. The Arsenal loanee had to be promptly replaced by former Napoli veteran Morgan De Sanctis, who was thrown in at the deep end for his first appearance of the season.
However, the urgency that often characterises Barça's quick passing appeared to wane, and De Sanctis was initially untroubled. As the final whistle grew ever closer, the Catalans redoubled their efforts, but only an Andrés Iniesta half chance called the Roma shot-stopper into action. At the other end, ter Stegen was just as unruffled, and the game ended all square.
AS Roma (4-3-3): Wojciech Szczęsny (Morgan De Sanctis 50'); Lucas Digne, Kostas Manolas, Antonio Rüdiger, Alessandro Florenzi (Vasilis Torosidis 85'); Seydou Keita, Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan; Iago Falqué (Juan Iturbe 81'), Edin Džeko, Mohamed Salah.
Goals: Florenzi (31').
Barcelona (4-3-3): Marc-André ter Stegen; Jordi Alba, Jérémy Mathieu, Gerard Piqué, Sergi Roberto; Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić (Rafinha 62' [Mascherano 65']); Neymar, Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi.
Goals: Suárez (21').
1. Roma's defence was impressive
Roma headed into this game with a back four of players almost entirely untested against this level of opposition. With Lucas Digne, Kostas Manolas, Antonio Rüdiger and Alessandro Florenzi in the starting lineup, Rudi García's defence had an average age of just 23. However, save for a couple of hairy moments, they performed very well. They didn't look overawed by the occasion, and restricting Barcelona to their relatively few chances was no mean feat.
2. ... but they didn't make the most of the counter
However, though Roma were good in defence, they were pretty disappointing in attack. The game's opening few minutes saw Mohamed Salah twice burst in behind Jordi Alba, suggesting the hosts' pace on the counter-attack would be one of the game's dominant narratives. Barça's full-backs pushed high and left acres of space vacant behind, and Roma's attackers must have been licking their lips. However, their build-up play was often poor -- striker Edin Džeko was particularly weak in this regard -- and the result was that ter Stegen barely had a save to make. Had they been neater with their passing, they could have caused genuine problems.
3. Alessandro Florenzi is fast making himself a Roma hero
Roma fans have a natural tendency to liking Alessandro Florenzi, who was born in the capital and grew up supporting the giallorossi. However, before this season, he'd always been a versatile backup player, and questions remained about whether he'd be good enough to establish himself in the first-team. A string of excellent performances at right-back later, and they've been well and truly answered. Today's stunning goal is undoubtedly the highlight of his young career, but more importantly, he's showing that he could be Roma's first-choice right-back for years to come.