Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund immersed themselves in a cagey battle at the Signal Iduna Park in the UEFA Champions League. The game ended 0-0 and was a fair reflection of everything that transpired through the course of the ninety minutes.
The hosts started the better of the two but quickly receded into a holding pattern. The above enabled Barcelona to dominate possession and the first half followed the same trend.
The clearest chance of the period fell to Jadon Sancho, who blazed his shot over the bar from just outside the box.
Dortmund though, got into the ascendancy after the break and looked to dent their illustrious rivals. They even fashioned themselves a penalty but Marc-Andre ter Stegen superbly denied Marco Reus.
The draw between the pair, coupled with Inter Milan’s 1-1 result with Slavia Prague means that all teams possess one point after the culmination of their opening games.
Here is a look at the talking points from the match:
#5 Barcelona and Dortmund serve up a fascinating tactical battle in the first half
Coming into the competition, Barcelona and Dortmund represented two sides whose strengths revolved around its offensive players and whose rear-guard had been prone to the odd lapses in concentration.
Thus, many expected the teams to throw caution to the wind at the outset, thereby rattling the other’s cage early.
However, in the opening 45 minutes, none of the above materialised as both were content to spar, rather than land any decisive punches.
Dortmund started with a 4-4-1-1 system whereas Ernesto Valverde’s men fielded a 4-3-3 formation.
Consequently, the German side allowed Barcelona to dominate possession, meaning that the Blaugrana were accorded the time to methodically build play from the back and through midfield.
The Spanish outfit, utilising the extra body in the middle third, pinged passes across the field. Yet, they couldn’t break through the hosts’ defensive shield.
In response, Dortmund, who were a man short in centre of the park, courtesy the system they deployed, used the width of the pitch as much as they could.
Sancho and Thorgan Hazard played quite wide on either flank and the full backs were also encouraged to venture forward, whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Thus, the home side looked to create situations of numerical superiority on the wings, wherein the advancing full back also forced Barcelona’s wide forward to track back.
Subsequently, the Blaugrana didn’t have enough numbers on the flanks to mount a swift counter attack, in the process, reducing them to forays down the middle.
Moreover, the hosts tried to invite Barcelona forward and in turn, hoped for spaces to open up at the other end. However, the visitors didn’t fall into that trap and were happy to dominate possession instead.
Before the match began, several fans opined about a potential end to end game being in store.
And, though the encounter didn’t live up to that particular notion, one couldn’t deny the extremely high tactical quotient of the first period.
#4 Jadon Sancho wins the wonder-kid winger war
Both starlets had enjoyed superlative campaigns before the game, with the Barcelona prodigy in particular, turning heads with his display at the weekend.
At the Signal Iduna Park though, the 16-year-old lost out in the battle of the teenagers to Sancho and rather convincingly.
However, the result of the winger war didn’t particularly come as a surprise, especially in light of what the Englishman has achieved over the past eighteen months.
Sancho has catapulted himself into the higher echelons of English football courtesy a string of dazzling displays for club and country. Capable of waltzing past any defender, the winger’s directness, pace and trickery has often unlocked many a stubborn defensive door.
And, on Tuesday, the Dortmund forward showcased his entire repertoire of offensive weapons.
On numerous occasions, Sancho ran at the Barcelona defence with intent, meaning that the visitors’ rear-guard were instantly pushed onto the back foot. The Englishman was also crucial in winning his side a penalty.
As for Ansu Fati, the teenager looked bright in patches but was unable to scale the dizzying peaks he did against Valencia. The hosts did extremely well to not afford him any space behind the back-line, thereby disabling him from using his searing pace.
Encouragingly for Barcelona though, despite not enjoying a great game, the winger wasn’t afraid to ask for the ball. And, that particular trait might endear him to the Blaugrana faithful even more.
At 16 years of age, Ansu Fati has an enormous amount of time to blossom into a superstar and perhaps, the match against the Bundesliga might’ve come at the right time for him.
After all, football isn’t that easy and an experience such as the one at the Signal Iduna Park will only help him traverse his footballing journey better.
#3 Mats Hummels reminds the world what he is capable of
Mats Hummels has endured a tumultuous couple of seasons lately. In the summer of 2018, the defender was a part of Germany’s ill-fated World Cup title defence and inevitably, many questioned if the centre-back possessed the requisite quality to continue at the highest level.
In the aftermath of the aforementioned debacle, Joachim Low decided to drop the experienced defender from his succeeding squads, signalling that he wanted to nurture younger defenders.
On the club front, things weren’t any rosier as Bayern Munich crashed out in the Champions League Round of 16, with Hummels guilty of a few mistakes himself.
Thus, when the German moved to Dortmund in the summer, many felt that the Bavarians had gotten themselves an extremely shrewd deal, where the money received could be used for the development of the squad.
Hummels, meanwhile, treated the return to the industrial heartland of Germany as a new challenge, a task that could help him remind the world of his quality.
And, it’s fair to say that he strengthened his credentials against Barcelona.
On Tuesday, Hummels was a rock at the back and rarely made a positional error. He was on hand to deal with Luis Suarez’s movements and didn’t allow the Uruguayan a proper sniff at goal.
Additionally, he read Barcelona’s offensive plans like a book, thereby finding himself in the right position at the right time to mop up the danger.
Throughout last season, the major criticism aimed at Hummels dealt with his lack of pace.
However, with Manuel Akanji alongside, the German’s weakness was offset, meaning that he could use his game awareness to stifle Barcelona.
Courtesy the display, Hummels might just have served a timely reminder to the footballing world of what he can still offer.
#2 Marc-Andre ter Stegen bails Barcelona out, again
Back in 2014, Barcelona acquired Marc-Andre ter Stegen from Borussia Monchengladbach looking to install the German as their long-term goalkeeper. However, he didn’t enjoy a smooth beginning with Claudio Bravo preferred initially.
Yet, since the Chilean left for newer pastures, the German has made the keeper’s slot his own and has quietly established himself as one of the best goalkeepers on the planet.
On countless occasions, his cat-like reflexes and propensity to double up as a sweeper at the back have dug Barcelona out of holes. And, against Dortmund, he came up with a similarly stellar performance to ensure the visitors came away with a share of the spoils.
Early in the game, ter Stegen went eyeball to eyeball with his compatriot, Reus. The former stood up tall and read the latter’s attempted far-post finish. Subsequently, the keeper came out on top.
The pair renewed their rivalry in the second period when Reus was handed the opportunity to open the scoring from the penalty spot. However, the Barcelona keeper outwitted him as he guessed right and made a stupendous save.
A few minutes later, the Dortmund skipper was found expertly by Julian Brandt in the eighteen-yard box. The forward tiptoed his way towards goal before seeing his double effort thwarted by ter Stegen.
Over the past eighteen months, Barcelona haven’t been inspiring on the road and inevitably, ter Stegen has had a lot of work to do. However, the keeper has managed to come up trumps more often than not.
In another interesting sub-plot, the German recently voiced his opinion on replacing Manuel Neuer and not playing for his country enough.
And, to that end, he might just have proven a thing or two to a few people on Tuesday, especially back in his native nation.
#1 A draw is good for Barcelona but is it good enough?
A few months ago, Barcelona unwantedly etched their names into the record books at Anfield. Despite taking a three-goal cushion to England, they let Liverpool erase the arrears and mount an improbable comeback. Alarmingly for the Blaugrana though, that represented a second capitulation in as many seasons.
Unsurprisingly, since that night in Merseyside, Valverde’s position has been under the scanner, with a special emphasis on his side’s away form.
The visitors though, didn’t arrive in Germany bubbling with confidence, especially considering they’d not won any of their away encounters in the season.
And while they gave a decent account of themselves in Dortmund, one could be forgiven to ask whether the display was befitting of a side intending to perch itself atop the European tree.
Akin to many a time recently, the La Liga side failed to impose itself on the game and started to drift away spectacularly in the second period. The attack looked toothless and too static to leave a considerable imprint on the game.
Additionally, whenever the midfield received the ball, there was a lack of offensive movements. Thus, most of the passes had to be sprayed backwards or sideways.
The goalless draw at the Signal Iduna Park also meant that Barcelona have now scored only a solitary goal in their last 4 Champions League away fixtures, with that net-bulger being a Luke Shaw own-goal.
More worryingly though, they might’ve even been on the end of an unfavourable result had Dortmund been a little more clinical in front of goal.
On paper, the Blaugrana boast of one of the finest squads across Europe. However, somehow, Valverde has failed to get the best out of his troops in clutch situations, a problem magnified by his blues on the road.
And, in light of the pastings they’ve been meted out away from home in recent seasons, a stalemate might paint a promising picture.
Yet, that surely can’t be enough for a club of Barcelona’s stature, can it?