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Sloppy Juventus effort leads to drab draw against Barcelona

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Juve’s improved defensive effort can’t outshine their poor offensive execution.

Juventus v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

In a sloppy game between Juventus and Barcelona in Turin, the stage was set for Paulo Dybala to break his Champions League goal slump and become immortalized. Allianz Stadium was rocking with energy, but Juventus sadly did not transfer that energy to the pitch. Juventus tied Barcelona in an ugly, scoreless game.

Juventus displayed better energy and creativity in the first 10 minutes of the match than they did in last meeting’s bloodbath against Barcelona, but it didn’t last. Once Barcelona increased defensive effort and tightened the middle of the field, Juve found themselves answerless for most of the match.

With a changed lineup and schematic, Massimiliano Allegri hoped for an offensive spark only to see the Old Lady extend their run of being shut out by the Spaniards to 180 consecutive minutes in the Champions League this season.

Juventus v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

It was a rather uneventful first half from both sides.

An inexplicable header from Juan Cuadrado almost lead to a gift-wrapped opportunity for Andrés Iniesta inches away from the goal. Fortunately for Juve, the ball spiraled wide and out of reach. Cuadrado was outmatched in the first half, and completely ineffective in the second. The inconsistent passing, the harsh touches and baffling decision making lead to a forgettable match for Cuadrado. Allegri must have a tighter leash on Cuadrado — 70 minutes is far too long in a game that Juventus needed to win.

Moments later, Juventus had an attack brewing in the 18th minute, only to watch Gonzalo Higuain roughly touch the ball backward instead of forward, ending the attack. Juventus missed out on a golden 3-on-2 opportunity. Juventus can’t afford to shoot themselves in the foot when they have an effective attack against an elite defense. This would only be the beginning to a frustrating night for the Bianconeri.

Barcelona was given a free kick after Miralem Pjanic was forced to foul thanks to Dybala’s poor turnover. In the 22nd minute, midfielder Ivan Rakitic sent a curling strike that looked like it was originally meant as a pass. However, the untouched ball almost snuck into the far side of the net, before banging off the post. Gianluigi Buffon and Alex Sandro were there to clean up the mess. No one in the stadium expected the ball to go in, yet it was inches away from doing so. Juventus hasn’t had much luck during the Champions League, but they sure were lucky to see that ball bounce off the post.

The Old Lady struggled to create offensively for the rest of the half. Give credit to Barca for not giving an inch inside the penalty box. Juventus rarely found themselves with open opportunities, but ran into a wall when they had possession inside the box. Barca’s recovery defense was spectacular all game, and Juve must be better on attacks where they have a man advantage. Juve was forced wide all game, and rarely mustered any real threats. The cluttered offense had way too many bad touches and long passes to find any rhythm.

However, Juventus’ defense played a clean half against an elite team — something we haven’t seen much of lately.

The match wasn't worthy of sitting on the edge of your seat, and the first half had both teams slumber through the motions. Juve has avoided catastrophic turnovers and counter attacks, which has kept Barca in check and out of sync. Of course, No. 10 sat on Barca’s bench. Lionel Messi didn’t start the game, and still had the opportunity to leave his mark with rested legs. Juve must play the second half with their eyes wide open.

The second half was equally frustrating as the first for Juventus. Not only did Juve fail to break through offensively, but Barcelona players — mainly striker Luis Suarez — flopped their way throughout the second half. Countless times, Barcelona was awarded stoppage or possession with extremely soft contact fouls. Suarez had some of the softest flops and dives we have seen in the Champions League thus far.

Directly after Suarez’s theatrics, Messi checked in on the 56 minute. While they haven’t given much space for Barca to work with thus far, the grim reaper only needs an inch.

Juventus v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Barca has had their chances, but have been unable to cash in. Juve was thoroughly dominated through the 80th minute and rarely kept possession, while the Spaniards knocked on the door of opportunity on offense. Juventus seemingly played conservative and scared to lose, instead of aggressively seeking to win. The lifeless offensive attacks lacked any danger or creativity. The defense had done its job for the match, but where was the offense? There was no spark or change in demeanor from any of the forwards or midfielders. It’s as if Juve were content with keeping the game close and competitive.

The last 10 minutes of the match saw Juve’s regular urgent effort to make some late-match magic, but their prayers went unanswered. The offensive aggression finally increased, leading to longer possessions for the Bianconeri, but they failed to get any threatening shots on goal.

Just as Juve fans held their breath, waiting for a dramatic moment in the 92nd minute, Dybala was given an open shot on goal. Dybala blasted a screaming line drive that hugged the grass until reaching its destination. Unfortunately, Barcelona goal keeper Marc-André ter Stegen made a sensational diving save to break the hearts of Juventus. Had ter Stegen reacted a second later, Dybala would’ve sent the Bianconeri to the Round of 16.

But, Juventus does things the hard way. Thus, presenting the must-win scenario in Greece against Olympiacos. Win and advance, or lose and go home. Juve can’t leave their Champions League fate in Barca’s relaxed hands against a motivated Sporting team.

After Italy’s national embarrassment and failure to qualify for the World Cup, Juventus now finds themselves in a similar situation with the Champions League.

Allegri has been searching for answers on offense, but more importantly, we’ll learn a lot about the character of this team on Dec. 5th.

LE PAGELLE

Gianluigi Buffon - 6.5: Buffon saw very little action against Barca, but directed the defense and positioned himself well throughout the game. It wasn’t sexy, but he turned in a clean sheet nonetheless.

Andrea Barzagli - 7.5: Barzagli played very well. Most of his impact won't show up on the stat sheet, but he did a great job of keeping Barca's attack out of the middle of the field. His recovery defense was especially good tonight and he didn't look too slow like he has before.

Daniele Rugani - 7: Much like Barzagli, Rugani played very well when called upon on defense. He didn’t give much on offense, but pushed the ball well enough without committing too many mistakes.

Medhi Benatia - 9: Benatia had a fantastic night — which is encouraging for Juventus. Barcelona found themselves attacking on the outside of the penalty box all night, and never really threatened through the middle of the field. Give a standing ovation to Benatia, who frustrated Suarez and held Messi in check. He was the man of the match.

Juan Cuadrado - 3: Cuadrado didn’t excite, but he battled and deserves respect. While he couldn’t get much going on offense in the first half, he gave a complete effort for the entire game. His touches were inconsistent, and he was occasionally out-muscled by the defense, but he delivered the most affective pass of the night — which led to the equalizing goal for Juventus.

Miralem Pjanic - 6: Pjanic was very good on defense, but lacked the offensive creativity Juve often receives from him. There weren’t as many clean crosses or through-balls from him, and his passing was messy. He rarely created promising attacks and never seemed comfortable. Juventus is a different team when Pjanic makes a positive impact on offense, and he was unable to deliver that tonight.

Sami Khedira - 4: Khedira did a solid job defensively, but like many others, failed to impress in an overall sense. He played a bit tentative on both sides of the ball…far from the aggressive player we saw against Udinese. Khedira's touches were pretty awful all night.

Alex Sandro - 6: The effort was there, but he still looked timid with his decision making. His defense was decent, but he failed to push the ball affectively or create in space. He wasn't bad, but far from his prime form.

Paulo Dybala - 7: Dybala gave an admirable effort just really couldn't position himself with many open shots. His beautiful struck ball in the 92nd minute was saved, but sometimes you have to tip your cap to ter Stegen. Dybala didn't turn in a terrific performance by any means, but he did well with what he was giving and created when he had the opportunity.

Douglas Costa - 6.5: Douglas Costa used his speed and change of pace to win the left side. Breaking through Barca's defense is never easy, but there was a noticeable difference of offensive rhythm from his side of the field oppose to Cuadrado's.

Gonzalo Higuain - 4: Higuain had played wonderfully leading up to this game, but he vanished tonight. He wasn't necessarily slow or out of form, but he was outmatched and rarely won battles against Barca's speedy defense. There were a couple of attacks where Higuain's touches lead to turnovers, killing momentum and flow of the offense. Juve needs more from him, and he needs to be more creative by not only looking to score.

Subs

Blaise Matuidi - NR: Matuidi came on to push the ball on offense, and ran all over the field on defense, but he didn’t impact the game. He wasn’t given much time to make an impact, either.

Rodrigo Bentancur - 5.5: Bentancur came on to shore up the defensive hold once Pjanic — who was already booked with a yellow card — ran out of gas. Bentancur did fine.

Claudio Marchisio - 6: Marchisio came on as a sub and did nicely with pushing Juve’s offensive attack. He made a couple of beautiful crosses that switched field and opened up Juve’s attack. He’s coming off of injury, but enough is enough: he needs to start.

Manager

Massimiliano Allegri - 6: Juventus still aren’t able to break through on offense against European powerhouses. Credit to Allegri for switching up schematics and pulling the right strings on defense. Any time a team shuts out Barcelona, it’s an impressive showing. However, Cuadrado was dreadful and Allegri needs to pull him way earlier than he did. The right wing was nearly nonexistent thanks to Cuadrado’s play, but his defense was also less than stellar.

Why wasn’t Mario Mandzukic substituted in this match? It seemed like the team desperately needed his spark, but he inexplicably never made an appearance.

Douglas Costa needs to play more often, and Marchisio needs to start. Khedira looked lost — he shouldn’t be starting anyways — but he also needs to be substituted for way earlier.

The amount of gut-wrenching touches and turnovers by Khedira and Cuadrado were mind-blowing.

Changes were made to the match on defense, but now Allegri needs to make changes on offense — before he finds himself watching the Champions League from his couch.