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Royal Antwerp 3-2 Barcelona: Match review

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Photo by VIRGINIE LEFOUR/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona played their final group stage fixture of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night away from home. After a 5-0 hammering of the Belgian side at Montjuic, many expected the Catalans to make easy work of the opposition once more.

Yet, that was far from the case last night.

Xavi opted for a completely rotated lineup on the night, and understandably so for the result had no bearing on the team’s qualification whatsoever.

Inaki Pena started in goal on the night with Andreas Christensen and Jules Kounde playing as the centre-backs. Alejandro Balde finally got a start at left-back while young Hector Fort was given his debut with a start at right-back.

Fermin Lopez, Oriol Romeu and Sergi Roberto started in midfield while Ferran Torres, Robert Lewandowski and Lamine Yamal played as the starting forwards on the night.

The clash at Bosuilstadion kicked off late on Wednesday night in Antwerp with the hosts getting the traditional first touch. It did not take long before that advantage was capitalised on.

In just the second minute of the game, the hosts secured their early lead in the game. Barcelona have no one to blame but themselves for the same.

Pena’s stubborn pass to Oriol Romeu was decently times but the defensive midfielder could not relay the same into a follow-up pass. His touch was intercepted by Vermeeren promptly before the Royal Antwerp player fired it into the top of the net.

Barcelona’s first chance of the game, meanwhile, came four minutes later when Lamine Yamal fired a great cross into the box. However, none of the Blaugrana players were anticipating such a delivery, leading to the move culminating in nothing.

One cannot deny that Xavi’s men made a decent comeback after going 1-0 down early in terms of intensity and pressure off the ball. Yet, Royal Antwerp appeared the better of the two teams for a major part of the opening period with incisive counterattacks and collective defence.

Van Bommel’s men continued to create chance after chance in the opening half hour, only to be denied by their own deficits or Barcelona’s Inaki Pena. In the 29th minute, in fact, the Belgians were close to even winning a penalty to extend the lead but VAR ruled that there was no foul involved.

It was only after the half-hour mark that Barcelona appeared slightly comfortable in the game. The 35th minute, eventually, held their equaliser and came about through a lovely combination play between Yamal and Torres.

The move stemmed from Barcelona’s Ferran Torres who played the ball out wide to the academy star. Yamal controlled the ball, took a few sweet touches and waited for Torres’ run before releasing the ball in his path. The Barcelona winger thus had the ball free in front of Jean Butez who could not do much to deny the goal.

Heading into half-time, Barcelona were on level terms with Royal Antwerp but were lucky to be so. After all, they registered just one shot on target in 45 minutes and did not create any significant chances apart from the eventual goal.

Barcelona got matters started after the half-time hiatus, and it did not take long for Antwerp to find the back of the net once again. In just the 50th minute, the Belgians found their star man Vermeeren unmarked in the box. The midfielder did well to set up his teammate who scored but the move was ruled out for offside.

The minutes that followed showed no respite. Sergi Roberto was shown red for a foul that looked reckless, but VAR intervention helped the card be rescinded to a yellow.

The script then went from bad to worse for the Catalans. Two minutes after the cancelled red card, Alhassan Yusuf did brilliantly to find Vincent Janssen in the Barcelona area after a Romeu error. The striker did brilliantly to avoid Kounde’s lunging challenge and deposited the ball into the back of the net.

Ilkay Gundogan, Pedri and Joao Cancelo replaced Oriol Romeu, Fermin Lopez and Hector Fort at the hour mark.

The substitutions brought life back into Barcelona’s ball circulation. Almost immediately after the changes, Pedri found himself in space in the Belgian box but was unable to get a convincing shot away.

Marc Guiu replaced Robert Lewandowski in the 72nd minute while Marc Casado came on for Sergi Roberto four minutes later.

The final 30 minutes saw the Catalans finally take control of the game and the possession of the ball. Yet, the better chances continued to fall to Royal Antwerp on the counter-attack for they often caught the visitors in a situation of numerical superiority.

The 91st minute saw Barcelona emphatically equalise the score through Marc Guiu’s rocket of a header. The youngster appeared to have saved a point for the visitors, but the joy was short-lived.

Just one minute later, George Ilenikhena scored a stunning winner on the break for Royal Antwerp to seal the result for his side. Yet, one cannot say it was undeserved.

The game, in the end, culminated with the Belgian opposition taking revenge for the embarrassing defeat at Montjuic. The 3-2 win was not enough to secure them any favour in the UCL, although it did register the team’s first points on the table after five straight defeats.

For Barcelona, meanwhile, the defeat bears no consequences barring the mental block it brings. Xavi has a lot to fix.

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