Juventus 3-0 Barcelona
Goals: Dybala 7, 22 (J), Chiellini 55 (J)
Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro stole the show as Juventus routed Barcelona in a 3-0 first-leg victory in the Champions League quarter finals
The game started at a frantic pace, at least for the home side, for we were berserker from the whistle. First to every challenge, flooding forward in numbers and really should have taken the lead on merely 2’ when Higuain placed a free header straight at Stegen. It came as no surprise when we opened the scoring; Cuadrado dancing into the box playing a short ball to Dybala who turned and shot in one sumptuous motion, finding the corner of the net. Nothing more than we deserved for approaching the game on the front foot. All fangs bared and eyes blazing with welcome fury.
Barca tried to get back into the game, and were thwarted with a sublime save from the evergreen Santo Buffon as Messi found Iniesta in the box and his first time effort was superbly tipped wide by the veteran. Soon after we went straight up the other end to make it 2-0, Higuain, driving forward, finding Mandzukic who rolled the ball into the path of the onrushing Dybala, to this time strike first time a gorgeous drive curled into the far corner. Leaving the much vaunted Stegen appearing rather ordinary in comparison to his counterpart at the opposite end of the field.
We maintained control and composure despite sitting deep, defending in numbers and waiting for opportunities to strike on the counter. Though to be fair, we did find a resurgence in the visiting side after the break as they reverted to a more comfortable 4-3-3 bringing on a player we were mightily interested in previously, Andrea Gomes. Who proved lame.
Whilst they did produce more pressure, there were very few clear cut chances forged, such was our formidable focus and zeal.
Just shy of the hour mark, Pjanic played a delightful corner into the box and Kaiser Chellini was on hand to muscle out the dwarf Mascherano to direct a towering header into the corner for 3-0.
Suarez found one glaring opportunity to pull one back, which again was saved by an uncompromising Buffon, though in turn, we created chances for Higuain, Khedira and had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside.
On the balance of chances and command of the game, we merited the commendable victory. Which stands us in decent stead for the return fixture.
The result was a testament to the diligence and guile of Max Allegri, and as I mentioned in the preview, the timing of things appeared to be perfect. On many levels, for we have not only revived the key players since the New Year, but also found a formation which often brings out the best of our collective talent. The Napoli ties were just what was required to practice game management, achieve our aims, without throwing everything on the line. A solid showing against a resolute Chievo to calm the nerves and we approached this game in splendid condition both physically and mentally, and it showed.
Of the starting XI, every player was in the least competent and driven, if not playing near to their capacity, but we can play better. It is difficult to string passes together against sides of a high technical prowess, experienced players who hound for the ball and are all comfortable in possession. And so rather than try to play Barca at their own game, we forced them to try play us at our game. Which did not work out well for the Catalans…
To keep that trident attack so quiet, limit them to just the two very presentable openings, confirms the strength of our defence and organisational nous. We should have won by more goals, Higuain was guilty of a couple of misses and the disallowed Cuardrado effort was a bother, yet 3-0 is a good result, against a team capable of dominating most other sides in the world, on their day. In terms of whether we will suffer the same fate as PSG, I have no such concerns. We are a side who rarely concedes, let alone concedes 3 or more. There is good reason why we have seen but two goals in 9 games at the top level of european football fly past Gianluigi. And if we can keep everyone who played last night fit, there is no reason to head to Spain expecting anything other than another victory, or at worst a draw.
I believe we will score in the return fixture as we are not a side who shrink terribly into our shell when playing away in Europe. We have perhaps more desire than our opponents, certainly the confidence, and the players will be already desperate for the opening whistle to find their ears next week.
Yes, it is important to note Allegro’s words…
“We are midway through because there are 45 days to the end of the season. Right now we haven’t won the Scudetto, Coppa Italia or reached the Champions League semi-final,” said the Coach in his Press conference.
“What tonight’s game must do is give us more confidence and awareness of what this squad can achieve.
“It’s right to be happy with what we’ve done, but also to keep our feet on the ground and a sense of balance, as we’ve achieved nothing yet.”
We were a little hard done by the officials. Not just with the disallowed goal, but also with bookings for Khedira and Mandzukic. However, the Polaks were at least fairly even when it came to the other pivotal moments. The tackle which led to a chance for Messi correctly ruled offside…the potential handball call when from close range, the strike hit Chiellini’s chest then hand as he mauled Juan’s thigh. Great decisions from the officials. We cannot expect them to get everything right, but on this occasion they got enough right.
My only grumble can be that the strength in depth was lacking. Lemina and Rincon were both at best ineffective, at worst woeful, after joining the fray. Allegri is a strange chap. For I would have preferred to see Sturaro come on in place of either. Firstly, as he is a more accomplished, especially at this level, combative midfielder than Rincon. Secondly, he has been recently asked to play in the Mandzukic role, which could easily be transplanted to the other flank, at least by my reckoning. Regardless, I continue to place my total trust in Max.
The positives begin with the scoreline. I cannot see us conceding 3 or more goals to any team in the world, other than Bayern. I also feel we will score in Catalonia. It was of vital importance to keep the clean sheet, avoid any away goals. A healthy lead with a clean sheet is the very best we could have hoped for, other than a headbutt of Messi or Suarez, which we got away with…hohoho!
Alves did very well indeed, pretty much kept his compatriot in his pocket. Chellini rekindled his warrior spirit. Leo kept calm and typically physical. Sandro showed once again he is arguably to become the strongest LB in the game. Pjanic did little, but what he did, he did very well indeed. Big Sami was monstrous. Higuain worked like a trojan. Mandzukic a cunning brute with Cuadrado finding two assists and Dybala a couple of sweet strikes. What more could we ask for? It was a very solid team performance in every area of the field. We attacked and defended as a team.
I was immediately appalled by Enrique, for clapping Iniesta’s foul which led to the opening goal. Also by Messi, who with the first challenge he received, asked for a booking for the opponent. Suarez appeared different. Less whining, and despite his lack of chances, did not resort to thuggery. Perhaps he realised there was nothing to be gained by such awfulness. The Polaks don’t pay homage to fops or whining spite merchants. I was pleased we had them officiating, despite the mistakes which went against us.
There remains much to do. Again I return to my mention of timing, which matters in football as it matters in life. For we have Pescara at the weekend, not Napoli or Roma. A chance to continue our march towards a historic 6th straight scudetto, rest a few key players and perform below top gear.
What Allegri has done with this squad is nothing short of amazing. We have the mentality of champions, are well aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and are able to manage games carefully and confidently. This is down to the coach.
I haven’t yet peeked at Rav’s ratings, yet will offer my own, albeit more briefly than usual-
Buffon 8, Bonucci 7, Chiellini 8, Alves 7, Sandro 7, Khedira 7, Pjanic 6.5, Cuadrado 7, Dybala 9, Higuaín 6.5, Mandzukic 7.5.
We are stronger than Barcelona. The potential of this squad is moving closer to fruition at just the right period of the season. Everything remains to play for.
A job well done.
Juventus: Buffon; Dani Alves, Bonucci, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Khedira, Pjanic (Barzagli 89); Cuadrado (Lemina 73), Dybala (Rincon 81), Mandzukic; Higuain
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Pique, Umtiti, Mathieu; Mascherano, Rakitic, Iniesta, Messi; Sergi Roberto, Suarez, Neymar
Ref: Marciniak (POL)
BUFFON: There are those games, week in, week out where Juve dominate and Buffon may be called into action on a rare occasion to remind us of his brilliance. Then there are those nights when you know the entire team will be up against it, and having the greatest keeper in the world available to call on, can make all the difference…..and what a difference he made. The save on Iniesta should really be considered as a good as a goal in itself. It looked certain to be heading in, and yet Gigi managed to perform the impossible. Keeping a clean sheet in a two-legged tie like this can be the difference between qualifying and saying ‘there’s always next year’. He marshalled his defence like it mattered, barking orders, positioning himself perfectly for every Barca attack. A majestic display 9.0
DANI ALVES: European nights are a reminder why we invested in the veteran full-back. He was wiley, determined and cunning, putting his knowledge of his former club to great use. Committed some rash tackles and the early booking put the whole result at risk, but he reigned in his aggression and played with real intelligence from there on out. 7.0
BONUCCI: One mistake aside, he was solid and controlled and barely gave Suarez a sniff at goal. There was a brilliant two footed tackle to deny Neymar and some great work on (and off) the ball, playing it out from the back. Great reading of the game throughout. 7.0
CHIELLINI: He may have suffered from his fair share of injuries in recent times, but nights like this are when Giorgio excels. He reads the game, the striker’s intent, and always manages to stay a step ahead. He was a giant, making perfectly timed tackles and interceptions and scored the third goal, despite having Mascherano climbing all over him. Titan. 8.0
ALEX SANDRO: Dybala may have scored the goals, but Alex Sandro was the player who truly arrived tonight. The prospect of facing Lionel Messi is a daunting one, and yet Sandro controlled the left flank with one of the best displays of his Juve career. There were accusations made, early on, that he was too attacking and neglected his defensive duties, but he’s come on leaps and bounds in this part of his game. He tracked back at every opportunity, closing down attack after attack and bringing the ball out with real intelligence and composure. 8.0
PJANIC: One of his best displays in recent months. He’s been a little too passive and anonymous, and yet he imposed himself on this game from the start. Far more physical, he didn’t allow himself to be bullied off the ball. Played perfectly in tandem with Sami Khedira and helped launch attacks from the centre of the pitch. Provided the cross for Chiellini’s goal and was back to his best. 7.0
KHEDIRA: Another powerhouse performance in the centre of the pitch. Worked from end to end, helping to support the attack and move the team forward as well as shielding the back 4 and making some good tackles to slow down the Barca momentum. 7.0
CUADRADO: Pushed forward at every chance, exploiting Barca’s weakest link. Has a good understanding with Alves and used his pace to run the channels effectively. Played his part in the opening goal, setting up Dybala. Much improved. 7.0
MANDZUKIC: A tireless performance, doing so much of the dirty work down the left, tracking back to defend and nullify Messi’s efforts, springing forward to support the attack and provide an outlet down the channel. Did his share of the tackling, working as a LB, LM, LW, all rolled into one. 6.5
DYBALA: As we saw from the games against Napoli and Chievo over the last week, Dybala was finding his feet as the creative force in the team….but this was something else altogether. The main accusation I would level at La Joya, is that he was too passive at times, unable to impose his play on the game. How wrong i was. His display was a masterclass, utterly clinical and ruthless, finishing off Barca with two pinpoint strikes, the first of which, was curled so perfectly it reminded of a former Juve no.10 from years gone by. Dybala was quick and efficient, dropping deep when required and running through the Barca midfield to spearhead the counter attack. Majestic. 9.0
HIGUAIN: The same accusations will be levelled at Pipa after a performance like this, and yet he was at the heart of the Juve attack, pulling the Barca defence left and right, creating the space for Dybala to operate in. Granted, he had 2 very clear cut chances that he should have buried and those may yet come back to haunt us, but his contribution can’t be discounted in a game where Juve alternated between being passive and aggressive throughout the 90 mins. 7.0
LEMINA: A brief cameo on the left, helping to balance out the team and see out the result, late on. Steadied the midfield and kept the right flank quiet. 6.0