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Ivan Rakitic, Neymar take Barca closer to Champions League knockout stage

Barcelona achieved a comfortable 2-0 victory against BATE Borisov in Belarus in Matchday 3 of the Champions League group stages. Ivan Rakitic scored both goals for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 72 percent of possession, created 21 goalscoring chances and attempted 18 shots, six of them on target.

Following their unconvincing win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, manager Luis Enrique was once again forced to get creative in order to field a reliable XI without Lionel Messi or Andres Iniesta. Fortunately, the current European champions approached the game with the required level of energy despite their significant absences. They remained focused throughout and were able to impose their theoretical superiority.

Surprisingly, BATE showed far less ambition than expected in front of their notoriously supportive home crowd. With the Belarusian players consistently failing to apply enough pressure on the Barcelona defenders when building from the back line, the game became an increasingly placid stroll for the visitors.

However, the Blaugrana failed to find the back of the net until the 48th minute, following a wonderful strike by Rakitic. Efforts on goal became much more frequent once the opener was in the bag and, inevitably, the visitors went on to score yet again and secure the victory as a result.

All in all, Barcelona came away from their trip to Belarus with the three points comfortably in their pocket after a much more placid game than anticipated, given the hosts overall lack of ambition and self-belief, two indispensable ingredients to cause an upset that was not to be.

Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):

GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 -- Controversially preferred to on-form Claudio Bravo in the biggest competition in European football despite his recent struggles, a decision the Chilean goalkeeper is not likely to accept easily. Ter Stegen was virtually unchallenged from beginning to end, which the German international would have definitely welcomed given his unconvincing performances of late.

DF Dani Alves, 6 -- Pushed forward continuously but, to his manager's frustration, failed to cross the ball into promising positions with much accuracy or conviction. Clearly, the Brazilian right-back is yet to reach full fitness and, as a direct consequence, the quality of his passing is being affected.

DF Marc Bartra, 7 -- Returned to Luis Enrique's starting XI after several weeks wasting away on the bench, a change which was certainly motivated by the horrendous performances Jeremy Mathieu has been delivering of late. To the youngster's credit, he responded to his manager's confidence with a reliable all-round display which should earn him a place at the heart of defence in coming matches.

DF Gerard Pique, 7 -- While it is true that he was rarely challenged by the Belarusian forwards, the Catalan centre-back seemed far more focused than he has been in recent times. Imposing in the air and efficient when tackling, the No. 3 could finally leave the pitch with his head held high after the final whistle.

DF Jordi Alba, 6 -- Still far from the lightning-fast left-back who kept terrorising rival defences at the end of last season but, at least, the diminutive Catalan showed signs of improvement after his dismal showing against Rayo on Saturday.

MF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- Returned to his preferred position as holding midfielder and, as is normally the case, did not disappoint. His positioning ensured that BATE could not build any quick counterattacks whenever Barca were dispossessed, a crucial factor which ensured the visitors were able to control the game with relative ease.

MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Deployed as an interior midfielder given the ever-growing midfield absences in the Blaugrana squad. Despite playing much further up the pitch than usual, the Spanish international linked well with those around him and ensured the ball reached the front-three as soon as possible. Could have even scored in the 30th minute, but his close-range shot went inexplicably wide.

MF Sergi Roberto, NR -- Forced to leave the action in the 18th minute after picking up a muscular injury. An absolute shame for the Catalan youngster, who had become little short of indispensable for Barcelona in recent times following injuries to key men Messi, Iniesta and Rafinha.

FW Munir El Haddadi, 6 -- Far more eager to get involved than in recent weeks, which is an encouraging sign. Did hit the target following a Neymar delivery late in the first half, but his shot was miraculously blocked by BATE goalkeeper Sergey Chernik.

FW Neymar, 8 -- Really enjoying the increased freedom that Luis Enrique is allowing him in Messi's absence, the No. 11 was Barca's brightest spark once again. As was the case when he found the net a record four times against Rayo, the Brazilian was inexplicably given plenty of space on the ball by his rivals. As a result, Neymar went on to assist Rakitic for both the opener and the second. The target of countless fouls from the initial whistle, Neymar was once again unstoppable, despite not finding the opponents' net on this occasion.

FW Luis Suarez, 6 -- Another industrious display from the ultra-committed Uruguayan forward. His astute movements in the final third enabled the No. 9 to create several spaces for both himself and others. However, Luis Enrique would be wise not to ignore that fact that his central striker was unable to find that crucial quality in his final ball once again. The former Golden Boot winner won't be satisfied after attempting a mere two shots, only one of which hit the target, against one of the weakest teams Barca will face this season.

Substitutes:

MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- Substituted the injured Roberto after just 18 minutes. Was given plenty of space to pick his spot outside the area shortly after the half-time break and, as it couldn't be any different, went on to smash the ball into the top-corner with a superb long-range strike. Scored his second with a gorgeous flick over the Belarusian keeper, a moment which secured the three points for the Catalans.

FW Sandro Ramirez, NR -- Replaced Munir after 70 minutes, in what has become a regular occurrence during Messi's absence. Struggled to become fully involved in the Catalans' attacking transitions and, in the only occasion when he managed to cut free towards the middle, attempted a long-range shot which went meters above the crossbar.

MF Gerard Gumbau, NR -- On for Busquets with 18 minutes to go. The Catalan youngster earned his fifth first-team appearance while the far more talented Sergi Samper continues defending Barca B in the third-tier of Spanish football. Having said that, the 20-year-old slotted well at the heart of midfield and only misplaced one of the 12 passes he attempted.