LYON: On a scoreless night in the Champions League, not even Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez could find a way to get a goal. While German champions Bayern Munich too couldn’t manage to score, let alone win at Liverpool.
Barcelona’s attacking stars were held in check by Olympique Lyonnais on Tuesday in a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Champions League round-of-16, leaving the French side’s hopes of causing a big upset very much alive.
Messi failed to add to his six goals so far in the competition, while Suarez had the goal gaping but sliced a shot wide with 20 minutes left after latching on to Jordi Alba’s pass from the left.
When wasteful Barca did hit the target, Lyon’s goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was in fine form.
Containing the five-time champions in the return leg on March 13 may prove far harder for Lopes and his defense if Messi and Suarez are back to their best.
“We are strong at home but there’s no denying that 0-0 away from home is a dangerous result,” Valverde said. “My feeling is that we played well, we were switched on. I think that we deserved a better result and did enough to win. It just wasn’t our night.
“The result is fine for us; we still have a chance to progress even if we know it will be tough,” Dubois said. “We have the ability to go far.”
However, coach Ernesto Valverde warned not to underestimate a Lyon side which won at Premier League champions Manchester City and were unbeaten in the group stage.
When Messi picked out Sergio Busquets five minutes from the end, the midfielder’s rasping shot from the edge of the penalty area was expertly tipped over by Lopes the French league’s standout goalie this season.
“Lyon played well but their keeper was very good,” Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet said.
Messi had the goal in his sights in the last minute, but struck his free kick into the wall and did the same with the rebound.
Both goalkeepers did well, with Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen making two fine saves inside the first 10 minutes from midfielder Houssem Aouar and forward Martin Terrier.
Although Lyon spent much of the half chasing Barcelona’s slick midfielders, Barca’s approach play too often broke down around the penalty area. Suarez was the biggest culprit, wasting several promising moves with unusually hurried passes.
Lyon coach Bruno Genesio acknowledged his side got off somewhat lightly.
“We gave them the ball back too quickly and that meant we were on the receiving end of wave after wave of attacks,” Genesio said. “We conceded too many opportunities for my liking in the second half.”
Barcelona also looked vulnerable at times.
Lyon almost scored after five minutes when Aouar showed great technique to receive a pass on the edge of the area, neatly make space and shoot low to the right. Ter Stegen got down well to push his shot away and moments later made an even better save to tip Terrier’s powerful shot one-handed onto the crossbar.
As usual, Messi was elusive to mark and often found good positions.
But he had a largely frustrating first half, failing to test Lopes with a free kick and two shots. When his trickery did work, notably with an excellent scooped pass over the defense in the 39th, the disappointing Ousmane Dembele fluffed his shot.
Terrier shot wide seconds before the break and Depay finally got involved when he curled a shot wide in the 52nd.
A tactical switch from Genesio saw Memphis Depay moved wide left, with Terrier through the middle and Dembele on the right.
It gave Lyon greater mobility but made it at risk from a swift Barcelona counter-attack. On one of those, Suarez finally found some room to turn in the penalty area, but impressive defender Leo Dubois nipped in to block his shot.
After Messi had an angled drive comfortably parried by Lopes, Valverde brought on Philippe Coutinho for Dembele.
Barcelona’s players finished the match with a greater sense of urgency as they hunted a valuable away goal.
Lopes cut out a dangerous Alba cross, saved from Coutinho and narrowed the angle when Messi ran onto Suarez’s pass.
In Tuesday night’s other game, Liverpool and Bayern Munich drew 0-0 in a match between five-time champions.
In their fourth visit to Anfield, Bayern went a fourth game at the stadium without finding the net.
“It’s not a dream result but it’s a good one and we can work with that,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said. “It’s not a game we will remember in 20 years but it’s a result we have.”
By denying Bayern an away goal, Liverpool have a slight edge heading into the second leg knowing they would advance with a scoring draw.
In a meeting of teams who have each lifted the European Cup five times and are second in their domestic leagues, there was little quality in front of goal.
“We needed to take pressure off their front three,” Bayern winger Serge Gnabry said. “We know they are a counterattacking team ... to keep the ball in midfield to not let them break through was important.”
Liverpool, with Virgil Van Dijk suspended and Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez both injured, started with its fourth-choice center back in Joel Matip and midfielder Fabinho playing alongside him.
Liverpool had a scare in the 13th minute when Joe Matip unwittingly diverted Serge Gnabry’s cross goalward from close-range and the ball bounced off goalkeeper Alisson Becker to safety. Bayern winger Kingsley Coman then sent a shot into the side-netting three minutes later.
Liverpool squandered chances when Mohamed Salah headed wide from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s delivery and Sadio Mane shot wide on the turn.
Mane also miscued an attempted overhead kick in front of the Bayern goal and Matip sent the ball wide from Roberto Firmino’s cutback before halftime.
“We had enough chances,” Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson said. “I feel, especially in the first half, to score one or two.”
Makeshift centreback Fabinho made a well-timed tackle on Robert Lewandowski in the six-yard box. Gnabry sent a shot fizzing over the bar from outside the box in the 59th but Bayern struggled to test Alisson.
Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer preserved the clean sheet in the 85th by tipping Mane’s diving header tipped around the post.
“That was a very difficult game,” Lewandowski said.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2019