Barcelona produced another poor showing away from home in the Champions League knockout stages, losing 3-0 to Juventus in the quarter-final 1st leg. A brace from Paulo Dybala and a goal from defensive talisman Giorgio Chiellini put the Old Lady in a commanding position before the second leg.
Barcelona started the match from midfield and looked to control the ball, but Juventus pushed very high up the pitch and aggressively pressed the Barcelona back-line and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The Catalans found it difficult to hold on to the ball and string together mora than two passes. At times almost all of Juventus’ outfield players were in Barcelona’s half, and it proved an effective tactic as Barcelona couldn’t cross the midfield line or almost five minutes.
Juventus on the other hand looked very comfortable on the pitch and seemed to know exactly what their plan was. The hosts threatened just three minutes in from a free kick from the right side. The cross was floated into the middle where Gonzalo Higuain was allowed an incredible amount of space to head the ball on target, but the shot went right at ter Stegen. Four minutes later, the Juve fans were given a reason to celebrate. Juan Cuadrado made easy work of Jeremy Mathieu on the left side of the Barcelona defense to win space to lay the ball to Dybala who was not closed down by Gerard Pique. Dybala fired off an excellent placed shot that found its resting place just inside the far post for the Juventus lead.
After taking the lead, with Barcelona in possession, the hosts wisely dropped back and allowed Barcelona to pass around an incredibly densely defended area. It was quickly evident that Massimiliano Allegri prepared his team to perfection – especially for the first half. Luis Enrique on the other hand had no such luck. While Barcelona managed to control the ball for the majority, the Catalans had numerous problems. Javier Mascherano was not an adequate substitute for the suspended Sergio Busquets in midfield, while Jeremy Mathieu should not be starting quarter-final matches in the Champions League, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. But even those two deficiencies could’ve been limited had Barcelona finished their chances the same way Juventus did.
Juventus made only a handful of mistakes the entire first half, but the one they made defensively in the 21st minute should’ve resulted in the equalizer. Lionel Messi brilliantly found the onrushing Andres Iniesta to create a one-on-one with Gianluigi Buffon. Two veterans facing one another, Iniesta fired a shot destined to sneak inside the far post, but Buffon stretched out his left arm, finger-tipping the ball just wide of the post for a corner kick from which Barcelona didn’t threaten. The corner kick, however, would be the start point of Juventus’ counter attack from which Juventus would double their lead. This time the play went down Juve’s left side, and with Mascherano lagging behind, Dybala was allowed space to receive the pass and fire yet another left-footed curling shot inside ter Stegen’s right post. The young German got a touch on, but was seemingly screened enough on the shot by Pique to not get enough of the ball to prevent the goal.
The majority of the remaining 23 minutes of the first half looked very frustrating from a Barcelona standpoint. The Catalans dominated possession to the tune of 70%-30%, but it was all for naught as most of that possession was in the midfield third of the pitch, though Barcelona managed to threaten a couple of times.
The first time they did so was at the half hour mark when Messi actually found the back of the net, but the play was correctly whistled dead for offside. The Argentine stole the ball away from Sami Khedira and quickly passed to Suarez to start the one-two that carved up the defense and left Messi alone in front of an empty net, but the whistle blew for offside as Suarez was behind the last defender at the time of Messi’s pass.
The only other time there was action in Buffon’s area was in the 39th minute. Mathieu sent a very good cross from the left wing to Saurez who was getting ready to head the ball on goal, but missed it completely. Danger came from the deflection off of Chiellini, but the ball went wide. In the final minutes of the game Juventus threatened again, once from open play and twice from corner kicks, but the halftime score would remain 2-0 in favor of the hosts.
Andre Gomes entered the game after the break in place of Mathieu, resulting in Mascherano returning to the defensive line. Barcelona started the half brightly, quickly threatening via a Messi shot, but it whistled wide of the mark. Juventus countered immediately down the left side, but Khedira’s powerful shot also missed.
Neymar started a good attack in the 51st minute, but in the crucial moment, when he was searching for the wide open teammate in the middle of the area, his accuracy failed him. Iniesta fired off a shot from the poorly cleared inaccurate cross, but it whistled over the crossbar.
While Barcelona continued to attack, Juventus would continue to be the team to score goals. It all started two minutes before the actual goal, but for two minutes Barcelona couldn’t clear the ball away. From open play twice Gonzalo Higuain tested ter Stegen, but both times ter Stegen won the duel. But from the second corner kick the hosts extended their lead to three. Chiellini outmuscled Mascherano to the header and accurately beat ter Stegen in off the far post.
It was all starting to look all too similar to the first Paris Saint-Germain leg. The difference was that Barcelona actually came to play to Turin and occasionally created a chance or two, but still they couldn’t find the back of the net. Even from some good looks, like the one in the 68th minute when Messi played Suarez behind the line for a one-on-one, but the Uruguayan couldn’t score. The very next minute Barcelona had a legitimate penalty claim turned down as Chiellini handled the ball inside the area.
Juventus scored again in the 72nd minute, but the goal was ruled out for offside, even though replays showed that Khedira was probably in line with the last Barcelona defenders.
Down 3-0, Barcelona were in desperate need of an away goal that would make the second leg more manageable, but while Barcelona continued to attack and looked to create chances, Buffon barely had to break a sweat. Barcelona pushed and pushed, but they were left without reward after missing a couple golden opportunities earlier in the game.
Now, the Catalans will have to hope history repeats itself and Barcelona for the second time in just over one month complete a historic comeback. Barcelona will host Juventus at the Camp Nou on 19 April. Is there another comeback in store is this the end of the Champions League road for Barcelona?