Win signals turning point

Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic (right) is airborne while scoring against Sergey Chernik of Bate Borisov during the Uefa Champions League qualifying match in Borisov, Belarus on Tuesday.
Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic (right) is airborne while scoring against Sergey Chernik of Bate Borisov during the Uefa Champions League qualifying match in Borisov, Belarus on Tuesday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Ironclad defence brings relief for Enrique as late Rakitic brace seals victory against Bate

BORISOV (Belarus) • Barcelona manager Luis Enrique said his side's clean sheet in their 2-0 Champions League win over Bate Borisov on Tuesday could be a turning point after a stuttering defensive start this season.

Two goals from Ivan Rakitic in the second half gave the holders a straightforward victory over Bate, who caused few problems for Barca's rearguard that had conceded 22 goals in 13 games going into the match.

Barcelona now lead Group E by three points with seven from three games.

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

It was not as though we were so bad (that) we needed to change. There were aspects of our defending we needed to improve.

LUIS ENRIQUE on the efficient 2-0 win

"We have been on a run where it has been difficult for us to score and we have suffered at the back (on the few occasions) that we have been threatened," Enrique told a news conference.

"I think that this can be a turning point. You always need to improve; it was not as though we were so bad (that) we needed to change. There were aspects of our defending we needed to improve although it wasn't a case of black and white."

Barca drew their first game in the group against Roma and then needed two late goals to give them a fortunate 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in their last Champions League match.

Even in the Primera Liga, they have not been rolling over sides in the same dominant manner as they did last season and have lost their last two away games.

"I am happy in general as it is never easy to play this solidly away from home in the Champions League," said Enrique.

"We have created a lot of chances to score but we continued with the same run we have had all season where we have not finished them off."

Barca laid siege to the Bate defence in the opening minutes, starting with a strike from Neymar from the left of the area saved by goalkeeper Sergey Chernik.

Luis Suarez had a header tipped over and then Munir El Haddadi, preferred to Sandro Ramirez in attack, should have scored but his shot was too weak and the 'keeper blocked it.

Barca continued to push forward but too often their final pass was poor while Bate offered little danger at the other end.

But at the start of the second half, Rakitic, who came on following an injury to Sergi Roberto after just 17 minutes, hit a sublime strike into the top corner, having been set up by Neymar.

Neymar was again the provider after 64 minutes for Rakitic, who sealed the win with a clinical finish past Chernik.

The two assists by the Brazilian star were further evidence that Neymar is providing leadership and impetus in the absence of the injured Lionel Messi.

Last Saturday, he hit four goals in the Catalan side's demolition of Rayo Vallecano in La Liga.

"I think it is the case that Neymar has taken up a role where he participates more in the build-up of play with Messi not there," Barca defender Marc Bartra told reporters.

"He is playing well and with the quality that we have in attack, it is important that players like he and (Luis) Suarez keep scoring the goals for us."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Win signals turning point'. Print Edition | Subscribe