Whistles and gasps – Barcelona vs Borrusia Dortmund ends in a stalemate | UEFA Champions League 2019/20
It was a long spell of whistling for the Borussia Dortmund fans as Barcelona continued to keep the possession around the 12th minute. With Barcelona controlling the tempo early, whistles quickly turned into a collective gasp when Gerard Pique almost headed home from the first corner of the game.
The game broke down into what would be its defining aspect (untidy) in the 15th minute when Thomas Delaney received the first booking of the match for an avoidable challenge on Sergio Busquets around the halfway line.
As concentration began to lapse at key moments for Dortmund in the first half, they invited corners, crosses and overall, more presence from the visiting side inside the box; all while the whistles tore up the decibel barriers in one of the loudest stadiums in the world.
With the game getting increasingly one-sided, Dortmund pulled a Barcelona on the Blaugrana. They built from the back playing quick lateral passes, and when presented with a huge gap between the Pique-Semedo partnership, their quick through ball reached the feet of Marco Reus. Reus missed, however, and the stadium collectively took a deep breath, knowing that such chances would be hard to come by.
The same story of missed chances and collective gasps would run throughout the match with Semedo giving away a penalty, Reus missing it and Lionel Messi squandering a crucial extra-time chance.
Nobody would probably have thought that two of the most exciting attacking teams in the world would be so indecisive in front of the goal.
Ernesto Valverde has always been criticised by the Barcelona faithful for being defensive in the away legs, so much so that coming into the tie Barcelona had scored only once (Luke Shaw own goal for Manchester United) in their last three away matches in the Champions League. Heavily criticised after the loss against Liverpool, Valverde was brave with his selection of midfield in the new season, experimenting with several combinations from the eight he had available in his arsenal.
His midfield three (Arthur, Busquets and de Jong) also looked settled against Valencia at home and Valverde’s selection showed promise for times to come.
However, Valverde going up against a fast, counter-attacking German side, did the most Valverdian thing possible. He decided to field an unfamiliar 4-1-4-1 (essentially a reworked 4-3-3) with Luis Suarez upfront.
Uncharacteristic to their style, Barcelona got most of their chances from set-pieces rather than open play, they lost shape while attacking and forwards like Ansu Fati and Antoine Griezmann were forced to defend against the pacey Dortmund wingers.
The introduction of Lionel Messi in the 60th minute did not help either. The Barcelona talisman playing his first match of the season got repeatedly closed down and looked very heavy on his first touch.
If it were not for the saving grace of Marc Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona could easily have been at least three goals down.
Ter Stegen had to apply every possible trick in the goalkeeping book tonight. He imposed himself inside the box, rushed 30 yards outside to help Pique, kept his reflexes as sharp as he could inside a crowded Barcelona penalty area and above all he saved a penalty, Ter Stegen was simply unbeatable tonight. However, despite the German’s brilliance, the Blaugrana might do well to introspect why the keeper has to come up with such performances so often.
While Barcelona would be happy that they did not concede from the scruffy game, tensions will loom over the fate of Jordi Alba who limped off after the half-hour marked in what looked like a possible hamstring injury.
With the next Champions League fixture to be played 3 October against Inter Milan at the Camp Nou, Barcelona and Valverde need to pull a continental rabbit out of the hat. Else, the doom, that engulfed the side in Liverpool and Rome, could come back to haunt them. And, one reckons another such calamity might just prove to be the final straw for the Spanish manager.