A second miraculous comeback was not in the cards for Barcelona, who were eliminated from the Champions League at the hands of Juventus by a 3-0 aggregate win. The Italians did all they had to do in the first leg and with a combination of organized defense and counterattacking play kept Barcelona at bay, securing a scoreless second-leg draw and a place in the Semi-Final.
For the mammoth task Luis Enrique made a handful of changes compared to the first leg, starting with the formation, reverting back to the “old” 4-3-3, with Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto on the sides. Sergio Busquets returned from suspension to start in midfield in place of Javier Mascherano. Massimiliano Allegri, on the other hand, trusted the same eleven that won Juventus the 3-0 lead in the first leg.
As expected, Barcelona came out of the gate with only one thing in mind –attack, as was promised by Lucho. The hosts pressured Juventus from the opening whistle – both with the ball and without. Juventus had difficulties taking control the ball and stringing together more than three passes, but on the counter attack the Italians still looked dangerous.
Barcelona were looking to create chances from possession, Juventus from quick counters. Action was aplenty on both sides, with Juve looking for the quick break to exploit acres of space allowed by Barcelona at the back. Both Juventus and Barcelona were attacking fiercely – using completely different tactics, but neither side was able to create clear cut chances. That was especially surprising in Juventus’ case as they often went into attack on the rush facing little opposition. Still, the visitors were the first to fire from a good position, but Gonzalo Higuain’s shot sailed over in the 13th minute.
Juventus often tried to catch Barcelona deep and force turnovers, like they often succeeded in Turin, but Barcelona looked much more confident in possession this time around. Barcelona’s passes were quick and more often than not on target and the result was that Barcelona managed to pin Juventus back. But playing deep and forced to defend is one of the strengths of the Italian side and Barcelona found it very difficult to create space and scoring chances despite working tirelessly in and around Gianluigi Buffon’s penalty area.
The Catalans needed just under 20 minutes to create their first good opportunity. The pass came from the left and Luis Suarez blocked it into the path of the waiting Lionel Messi who had time and space to take the shot, but missed right with Buffon seemingly already going the wrong way. Buffon wasn’t tested until the half hour mark when Barcelona forced a turnover deep and Messi took a shot from distance, but the Italian veteran was perfectly positioned to make the stop. Messi threatened again from the rebound, but from a tough angle couldn’t direct the shot on target.
On the other side of the pitch, Juventus didn’t have much more luck, as like Buffon, Marc-Andre ter Stegen also only had to make a single save in the first half. It came in the 38th minute after a stunning Miralem Pjanic pass found Higuain in the middle, but the Argentine’s tip went right at the well positioned ter Stegen. Pjanic was again in action minutes later when he sent Messi crashing to the ground face-first after the Bosnian was late to an aerial duel, which left Messi bleeding from below his eye. It was a play that started a mini brawl as Neymar came crashing into Pjanic late earning himself a yellow card.
Tensions were high because of what was at stake and frustration started to creep into the minds of Barcelona players. The fact that Juventus played a very physical game and Barcelona were getting called for more fouls didn’t help and referee Björn Kuipers often had to deal with several displeased Barcelona players. But no frustration was going to change the score and the two sides went into the break still scoreless.
The second half saw Barcelona push forward even more and with time relentlessly running out Gerard Pique started spending time in the Juventus third. But in attack Barcelona continued to struggle in chance-creation. Juventus’s defense, led by the unflappable Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, allowed no paths through to Buffon and Barcelona were forced to take perimeter shots.
Those shots mostly came from Messi, but the Argentine’s aim wasn’t up to the task as in a matter of six minutes he missed three shots from the 20-25 yard range, including one from a nearly perfectly placed free kick. In between those chances, Juventus created a rare second half opportunity for themsleves, with Dani Alves sending Juan Cuadrado to the races, but his low shot was stopped by ter Stegen.
Time was running out for the Catalans, but surrender was not an option for Barcelona as they continued to attack in numbers, taking shot from left, right and middle, but Messi’s first half try was the only one that forced Buffon to make a save. With few options left to change the results of the game, Lucho made his first substitution in the 58th minute, replacing Ivan Rakitić with Paco Alcacer.
Barcelona witnessed the first Juventus mistake in defense in the 66th minute as Buffon misjudged the corner kick and Suarez quickly fed the ball to the middle to Messi who had a Buffon-less net in front of him, but looking to miss the three defenders in the way, Messi missed the net altogether. Three minutes later, Roberto fired from the right side, but he too couldn’t get the ball on target.
With the tie all but over, Allegri further shored up his already impenetrable defense, pulling of a forward, Paolo Dybala, who was rendered almost completely ineffective by Busquets, and replaced him with the defensive wall that is Andrea Barzagli. Barcelona also made a change with Mascherano taking Roberto’s place, but all the changes or all the time in the world would make a difference.
Barcelona kept attacking right up until the final whistle, but it wasn’t to be. Not to advance, not even to score a single goal against a Juventus side that allows a goal every third or fourth blue moon. Barcelona came closest in the 80th minute when Neymar sent a dangerous cross in, looking for a Mascherano tip. Mascherano just missed, but the cross went still on goal, but Buffon managed to prevent the consolidation goal.
It was all over for Barcelona and their dream of a Champions League trophy ended in the quarter-final for the third time in the last four years. The effort of the eleven players on the pitch today was much appreciated by the Camp Nou crowd who made their voices heard throughout the match. But the Catalans won’t have any time to rest and recover from the heartbreak. Barcelona will take on Real Madrid on Sunday and anything but a Barcelona win will erase what little hope there is of a La Liga title.