A feverish Camp Nou is a difficult place to play at — especially for an undermanned Juventus team.
“Bend, don’t break” is a theme Juventus has struggled with when they are faced with adversity. If things go poorly, Juve can’t allow the perfect storm to gain traction.
However, Juventus broke again against Barcelona on Tuesday — showing a familiar collapse like last year’s UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid. Lionel Messi scored for the first and second time ever against Gianluigi Buffon, as Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 victory in the opener of the Champions League group stage. Injuries proved to be too costly for Juventus to overcome.
"We were missing several players, but this is not an excuse, we just need to learn the lesson and continue working as we are doing,” said Juve midfielder Miralem Pjanic.
"We have time to recover from this defeat."
Juventus started with a strong defensive foundation that played solid through the first 44 minutes of the match. The back four of the defense looked competent and organized; keeping Barcelona attacks out wide and away from Buffon. In the ninth minute, Douglas Costa led an excellent counter attack off a Barcelona turnover. When Douglas Costa has the ball in space, he can push the ball forward at a lighting quick pace, and this time he sent a crisp pass to Paulo Dybala, but Juve’s No. 10 had controlled the dribble away from the goal, leaving a difficult, wide shot that sputtered forward for an easy save for Marc-André ter Stegen.
Juventus didn’t have many offensive opportunities thereafter, but played technically sound and alert on defense in the first 15 minutes. Just as Juve looked comfortable against Barca’s aggressive attack, Medhi Benatia took an ill-advised gamble by sliding into a passing lane, only to see the ball kicked past him. Barcelona were off the the races, but Juve were fortunate to see Buffon save the day from a gift-wrapped first goal. Buffon sprinted out of the penalty box, gave the ball a soft touch, and blasted it away from danger.
Shortly after Juve’s mental lapse, Barca midfielder Andrés Iniesta sliced through their defense, creating a dangerous opportunity at the top of the penalty box. Juve midfielder Blaise Matuidi was forced to make an obvious tackling foul to prevent an easy shot on goal. The smart play by Matuidi masked a disappointing breakdown for Juve’s back four. Messi took the free kick in the 20th minute that was blocked by the defensive wall, before the ball found Luis Suarez with a glimmer of hope and opportunity. Suarez struck a screaming line drive that was saved by a leaping Buffon, whose right hand punched the ball over the crossbar.
But the free kick was a scary reminder that if Barcelona is given space, they’ll capitalize. The opposing team can only get away with so many mistakes unscathed.
Barca won possession frequently and applied pressure up the middle of the field, forcing Juve into a scattered defense. Juve defender Mattia De Sciglio looked sharp, sniffing out any creative attacks Barca would form. He was arguably the reason why Juve’s back four were able to withstand any attacks up to this point. The attacks intensified and became suffocating, but Juve were able to prevail under immense pressure. An exhausting effort for a defense could only bend for so long until the entire team breaks. The lack of offense and possession would cost Juve to suffer reprehensible actions as the match carried on.
Juve’s offense looked out of sorts in the opening half. There were moments of miscommunication between Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain on who the ball was intended for, leaving both players out of sync. It’s as if they took turns attacking instead of playing off each other. Juve struggled to get anything going down middle, and crosses were made with no one home despite many favorable 2-on-1 matchups out wide. Any forward push would lack a final attacking creation inside the penalty box.
In the 41st minute, Mattia De Sciglio went down on the pitch, injured, for a second time. Stefano Sturaro comes in to substitute for De Sciglio. The injury bug continues to bite Juve, infecting the entire defense. Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri saw his biggest nightmare come to fruition, losing another defender to injury after already rolling out an undermanned roster.
Despite the chaos, the Italians held the Spaniards to one shot on goal. But Messi, like all great players do, would leave his mark on the match.
Messi found a bit of space to wiggle through Juve’s defense and played a lovely give-and-go pass with Suarez, losing Miralem Pjanic, and recieved the ball back for an open shot on goal. The shot roll in to give Barca the breakthrough they had been seeking. Juve was so close to entering the half with momentum, but Messi took advantage of the space he was given. Messi delivered a tough blow to Juve’s spirit, scoring against Buffon for the first time ever in the closing seconds of the half. This can’t break them — it’s only a one goal deficit.
Except, the snowball effect haunted Juventus in the second half.
Barca dominated possession and applied pressure, seeking another psychological blow to Juve. A calm, collective and precise Barca attack gave an eerie feeling to the game. It’s as if heartbreak was on the horizon. Juve’s play was overzealous, skittish and disorganized.
In the 56th minute, the viper finally reached its prey.
Juventus’ defense had overcompensated for Messi’s creative dribbling down the right side. As the defense collapsed to stop his attack — and a streaking Suarez — Sturaro made a last-ditch effort by kicking Messi’s shot on goal, out of play. The effort was admirable, but not effective. Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic found himself in an opportunistic place, swiftly kicking the rebound into the back of the net.
Juve’s confidence had deflated quicker than a knife to a soccer ball. Andrea Barzagli looked up into the sky with disbelief to the gut-wrenching goal. Perhaps Barzagli needs to look at himself in the mirror, instead of up into the sky. He looked slow and outmatched. Where is Daniele Rugani? Wasn’t he signed to challenge the faster, talented attackers? Allegri needs to stop showing so much devotion to Barzagli in the Champions League if Juve is to challenge the powerhouse teams. Barzagli is considered a reliable veteran, but Allegri needs to make adjustments if a mismatch is there.
As the game carried on, nothing changed for Juventus.
Juve played on their heels, while Barca went for the kill. A two-goal lead at home wasn’t enough of a statement, and if Barca could tack on another one to widen the gap in the standings, they should do so. Barca smelled blood and took advantage of a wounded Juve squad.
It’s obvious the beloved black and white were shorthanded, but the offense looked troubling. After all, they still had huge talents like Dybala and Higuain on the field, and were unable to challenge the Barca defense all game. Barca forced Juve into a choppy, jumbled attack that lacked a symphony of balance and creativity.
Finally, Barca had would deliver the dagger to Juve’s hearts at the hands of Messi. He embarrassed the Old Lady’s defense that provided way too much space (again) in the middle of the field. A pathetic, lethargic defensive effort by Alex Sandro and Medhi Benatia put Juventus’ salvageable hopes in a coffin. Messi launched a clean shot and buried it into the bottom corner of the net in the 68th minute — a nearly identical spot to the first goal.
“We cannot think of coming here to dominate Barcelona, as that’s presumptuous, but we had the opportunities to score. Naturally when trailing, you feel tense and try to fight back, but that leaves gaps at the back. We need more patience.”
“With the opportunities that we had in the first half and the lack of determination we showed in attack, we could’ve got a result. We had to remain in the game during the second half and not get too hasty. If you leave Messi space to run in, he’s going to score.”
- Max Allegri
That sealed the deal for Barcelona’s 3-0 victory. They have only won the Champions League once in past six years, but they sure looked the part against Juve’s “B” team on Tuesday night. Thanks for playing, Juve, and goodnight.
Gianluigi Buffon - 6.5. Buffon played his heart out without much help from his defense. He made a few brilliant saves, but the goals scored were no-doubters where Buffon had no chance. This game could’ve easily been a four- or five-goal deficit without Buffon’s savvy play. The save on Suarez was vintage Buffon.
Mattia De Sciglio - 6.5 De Sciglio played an admirable first half, making numerous tactically sound defensive plays to stop any creative attacks thrown at him. But, his injury added salt to a wounded Juve defense. Juventus sorely missed a natural right back playing against Barcelona for the remainder of the half, and the lack of defensive depth was exposed once De Sciglio was subbed out.
Medhi Benatia - 4. It’s clear that Benatia isn’t ready for primetime games. He challenged when he shouldn’t, and gave too much space around the penalty box which lead to Barca breakthroughs. After the first 15 minutes, he was a liability the rest of the game. Barca ran circles around him, especially in the middle of the field. Take him out, Allegri, before he costs Juve another goal — never mind, too late. It’s blasphemous that he was still on the field this late in the game after such a poor performance, but everyone has bad games. This loss can’t be pinned solely on him.
Andrea Barzagli - 5. Barzagli doesn’t deserve the entire blame for Juve’s disappointing defensive effort, but he played very uninspiring soccer. He looked slow and outmatched the entire second half. This rating may be harsh, but it’s only because Juve needs more from him — especially in the Champions League, where he’s been underwhelming as of late.
Alex Sandro - 5.5. Sandro wasn’t terrible, but he was quiet. In fact, he’s looked overzealous and sloppy in every game this young season. With all of the injuries and loss of Leonardo Bonucci aka “il serpente,” to the defense, Juve needs Sandro to be way better. He hasn’t been able to play up to expectations thus far.
Miralem Pjanić - 6. Pjanić had a decent game, but the 45th minute mental lapse that lead to Messi’s opening match goal was critical. Way too much space was given to Messi, and Pjanić knows he could’ve given a better effort — or at least better positioning. You can’t nap inside the penalty box against one of the greatest players ever.
Rodrigo Bentancur - 5. Bentancur had mixed results in his Champions League debut. He showed his potential during some great moments, but as Barca’s attack got more creative, Bentancur started to show his immaturity. Patience is key for the young talent, but he showed he still needs polishing. He can’t lose sight of Messi on the first goal, and can’t collapse prematurely during an attack on the second.
Blaise Matuidi - 7. Matuidi didn’t light up the offense, but he certainly played a huge role in defending Barca’s attack. His effort was similar to Buffon’s, and while he didn’t make any game-changing plays, he played with tenacity, passion and heart. From afar, it seemed like he covered the most ground out of any midfielder/defender. The results weren’t necessarily there, but the effort was.
Douglas Costa - 6. Costa pushed the ball upfield and created some counter attacks for Juventus, but he didn’t really leave his mark on the game. Not a bad effort, but got lost in the shuffle in the second half.
Gonzalo Higuain - 4. Other than one scoring chance, he was silenced all game. The offense as a whole was cluttered and out of sync. It was a repeat of the championship against Real Madrid in last year's CL. Not only was he silenced this game, but he’s looked a step slow to start the season. If this is any indication of his play the rest of the season, Juventus is in trouble.
Paulo Dybala - 5.5. He played hard, but not well. Like Higuain, Dybala was silenced. Dybala had a chance inside the penalty box, and blasted it out of the stadium. Dybala has been a world-class talent for Juventus this season, but he was smothered by Barca’s defense all game. He tried to create and slip by defenders, but Barca’s double teams were too much to overcome. Juventus must make teams pay for doubling Dybala. If Dybala isn't the focal point of the offense, then Allegri must at least use him as a decoy. Again, that won’t work if Higuain is running slower than beloved Andrea Pirlo.
Stefano Sturaro - 4.5. He came on to replace De Sciglio, but he was out-classed when having to defend world-class attackers. There’s no reason to blame the defense mishaps on him, but he was another liability that Juve played with all game.
Federico Bernardeschi - NR.
Fabrizio Caligara - NR.
Massimiliano Allegri - 6. Juventus entered a Champions League game with half of its starting lineup out, and Allegri can't be blamed for the performance of today’s 3-0 loss when the team is so shorthanded. But, leaving Rugani — the best central defender on Juve’s roster — on the bench leaves a sour taste. It seems befuddling to leave him on the bench after seeing him start every game in Serie A. The offense looked uninspiring, slow, cluttered and dysfunctional, and Allegri has to fix that. We’ve seen this before against teams, and he’s had numerous opportunities to try something else. The attack was poor, and Juventus needs Allegri to sit in a dark room for hours until he figures out how to fit it. Give credit to Barcelona, but Allegri deserves his share of criticism.