Tuesday 17 July 2018

Five things we learned as Juventus send Barcelona crashing out of Champions League

Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez look dejected after the match
Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez look dejected after the match

Samuel Lovett

Juventus held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp to win 3-0 on aggregate and reach the last four of the Champions League for the 12th time in their history.

The visitors were resolute in defence as they held off Barcelona's frontline who huffed and puffed all game long in search of a breakthrough.

Luis Enrique's enjoyed their fair share of chances but it wasn't to be their night, with the Italians deserved winners.

Here's five things we learned...

Lightning doesn't strike twice

Just as on the eve of his team’s 6-1 comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, Luis Enrique was talking with an impressively assured matter-of-factness about how another “miracle” could rather logically take place ahead of his side’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against Juventus. But on this occasion, it wasn't to be.

Barcelona huffed and puffed but they were unable to break down an Italian defence that was far more assured and composed than PSG's. The home side certainly had their chances, with Messi missing a number of close range efforts, but they were unable to recreate the magic that saw them through against PSG last month. Unfortunately for Enrique, lightning doesn't strike twice.

No love lost between Alves and his former team-mates

The former Barcelona man had said before the game that he would never be able to return to the Camp Nou, despite spending eight years with the club. "The ego of certain people means I can never return to Barcelona," Dani Alves said.

"Their egos are huge and they'll never recognise or admit to what they made me feel." Understandably, then, the 33-year-old was in no mood for pleasantries tonight. He was physical and combative, holding back few punches, and hounded his old team-mates all game long. Putting in a number of crucial challenges and interceptions, Alves was a valuable asset to the visitors. Barcelona's loss is Juventus' gain.

Neymar the redeemer? Not this time

Neymar delivered one of his finest performances in a Barcelona shirt last month to guide the side to a historic comeback against PSG. The Brazilian was quite simply magical, injecting a sense of dynamism, creativity and urgency into Barca's side as they overturned a foul-goal deficit. Alas, it wasn't to be this time round. Neymar certainly proved to be a nuisance tonight, asking testing questions of the Juventus defence in and around their box, but he lacked that clinical edge to his game.

Frustration also appeared to get the better of him at times, too. An unnecessary and unprovoked challenge on Pjanic saw him pick up a yellow card which would have ruled him out of Barcelona's first-leg semi-final had they got there. Against the likes of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, the task at hand was always going to represent a significant set-up from PSG. Neymar the redeemer? Not this time.

Juventus sold as a rock

Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were quite simply sublime. Dogged, pugnacious and intelligent, the central pairing commanded the Juventus backline all game long. Against such strength and experience, it's no wonder Suarez and co. struggled to find a way through. If it wasn't Bonucci with the last-ditch sliding tackle, it was Chiellini with an all-important interception.

Their positioning tonight was equally impressive, confirming their status as the best in the business at penalty box defending. The introduction of Andrea Barzagli, coming on for Dybala with 15 minutes to go, tightened things up at the back for Juventus and firmly closed the door to Barcelona's front men.

Dybala enjoys mixed evening

Diminutive, dynamic and armed with a deadly left foot, Paulo Dybala has already been tipped to follow in the shoes of Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi in the years to come. Fellow compatriot Gonzalo Higuain has been profuse in his praise for the youngster, arguing that the 23-year "has the characteristics to become one of the best players in the world".

But after his stellar performance against Barcelona last week, he enjoyed less of an influence on the game this time round. He struggled for chaces, and those shots that did find the target never really tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen. He certainly kept Juventus' frontline ticking over with his movement and silky runs, but it was relatively subdued night from him.

Independent News Service

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