Suárez puts Barça ahead after 21 minutes / MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

In the same stadium where they won their third continental title in 2009, FC Barcelona opened the 2015/16 Champions League with a 1-1 draw at AS Roma of Serie A. The players might feel that they deserved more after dominating most of the play, but it was a convincing display that might have ended very differently with a little more fortune in front of goal.

Wearing their blue Night Rising strip for the first time, Luis Enrique’s side made their intentions clear right from the start, with Messi powering a shot from outside of the area after just four minutes. Suárez with a header and Messi again had also come close before the game was even ten minutes old. It was relentless stuff from the Catalans and after 21 minutes, they were rewarded for such an ambitious approach when Rakitic crossed from the right and Suárez headed home from practically on the goal-line.

A short-lived lead

It was spectacular stuff from Barça, but the lead only lasted for ten minutes. Just after the half hour mark, Florenzi got the Italians back on level terms with an absolute screamer from over 50 metres out.

[[DES_1]]Seemingly unfazed by that setback, Barça kept pushing, with Messi determined to get his team back ahead on the night of his 100th Champions League appearance. Before the first 45 minutes were over, the Argentinian had sent one shot over the bar and seen another saved by Szczesny, while at the other end Ter Stegen was called upon to deny Nainggolan. But there would no further scoring before half-time came with things all-square at 1-1.

Injury woes

In the very first play after the restart, Szczesny made a great save from Messi. But his involvement in the game came to an unfortunate end moments later when he injured his hand in a clash with Suárez. The Polish keeper was replaced by De Sanctis, while Barça would soon have injury concerns of their own. Moments after coming on for Rakitic, Rafinha was on the receiving end of a heavy challenge from Nainggolan. The Brazilian was stretchered off, and Mascherano took his place.

Most of the play was devoid of the frenzied drama of the first half, with the two sides locked in an intense battle in midfield and very little in the way of goalmouth action. But things sprung to life in the final quarter of an hour, with Suárez just failing to finish off a sweet one-two with Neymar and Messi following an impeccable piece of control by sending the ball onto the Roma crossbar.

Final flurry

The home side hadn’t had their final say either, with Dzeko having a long-range pop with two minutes on the clock, but Ter Stegen was perfectly positioned to deal with it. Then, with the game well into injury time, Barça had three consecutive chances to snatch a last-gasp winner. Gerard Piqué’s header went wide by the narrowest of margins, Manolas cleared Jordi Alba’s effort off the goal-line and a Sergi Roberto strike from the edge of the area was saved by De Sanctis.

All in all then, a hard-earned point for FC Barcelona in Rome, and next up it’s Bayer Leverkusen at the Camp Nou on September 29.

Bayer Leverkusen win 4-1 to top group

In the other game in Group E, Barça’s next opponents, Bayer Leverkusen, got off to a fine start with a 4-1 defeat of BATE Borisov. Mehmedi got the Germans off to the perfect start but BATE immediately responded through Milunovic. The Belarusians did a fine job of defending that scoreline but were finally broken down after the break.  Calhanoglu after 48 minutes and  Chicharito after 59 put Bayer 3-1 up, before Calhanoglu finished things off with a 75th minute penalty.