Yet another magnificent display from Lionel Messi propelled Barcelona to a crushing 3-0 win over Juventus at Camp Nou on Tuesday night.
Barcelona avenged their Champions League knockout last season in style, as they subjected Juventus to a humiliating 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou. After an intense first-half, Messi broke the deadlock in the final moments before half time with a sublime finish after a good move involving both Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez.
Suarez tested Gianluigi Buffon several times – especially with Barcelona’s only other clear chance. Matteo Di Sciglio forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen to tip a strike wide too, although Juve were happy to sit back. Messi’s determined run into the area led to the second goal with Ivan Rakitic firing the ball into the net.
Messi finished brilliantly again for the third, leaving Buffon with no chance. The Catalans were the favourites to win the game but nobody expected Juventus to do so poorly, especially after their brilliance in the previous season. The Hard Tackle takes a look at five major talking points from the match.
Lionel Messi has no intentions of slowing down
There was a lot of talk before the game about Messi being the king but Juventus forward Paulo Dybala being the heir to his throne. While that might come true someday, last night’s match proved that Messi can possibly never be replaced because of his sheer resilience, and his importance to the Barca team.
Granted, Cristiano Ronaldo was the first to reach a century of goals in Europe but it’s safe to say that Messi will be next. The Argentine forward was deployed as a false nine and the system worked to bring the best out in him, even as he took his time to make an impact.
Juventus gave a good account of themselves for large parts of the first half and managed to keep Barcelona at bay. Messi had not made a single touch in the Juve box until minutes before half-time when he drove forward with Suarez to enter the box with the ball.
Even as five defenders engulfed him, the Argentinean wizard scored past Buffon. The rest, as they say, is history.
Juventus defence a shadow of its former self
Without the services of the injured Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli had to step up and marshal the back-line against Barcelona. Furthermore, Massimiliano Allegri decided to go with a back-four instead of the traditional back-three, which did not exactly work in their favour.
They had Mattia De Sciglio at right-back, Alex Sandro at left-back and Medhi Benatia to partner Barzagli at the heart of defence. De Sciglio came off injured in the first half with Stefano Sturaro replacing him and that was when all hell broke loose on the Italian visitors.
Meanwhile, Sandro has been poor for quite some time now. Barzagli and Benatia are not the ideal central defensive pairing, which was further proven in the second half. Rakitic’s goal showed how disorganized they were at the back, leaving Buffon extremely vulnerable to clear shots on goal.
Andres Iniesta is here to stay
With a lot of speculation surrounding his future at Barcelona, many suggested that perhaps Iniesta is close to hanging his boots up. However, he isn’t finished yet. The 33-year-old started for the second time in four days and showed there’s a lot of life in him with an astounding performance against Juventus.
The veteran midfielder was light on his feet and extremely creative in the first half, with his finest moment coming from a complex dribble crudely brought to an end by Blaise Matuidi’s desperate foul. In fact, Iniesta’s constant movement across the pitch also flummoxed Juventus and the veteran managed to complete four dribbles.
Valverde may have picked Iniesta to show him that he is very much needed at Camp Nou and the manager was rewarded with a classy display. Be it at Barcelona or at another club, Iniesta has a lot of brilliance left in him in terms of his performances – a fact which was reflected quite clearly last night.
Unlucky night for Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele
Neymar is no longer a part of the famed Barcelona attack, which shifts the focus on to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. While Messi has been stepping up to the challenge, Suarez seems to be struggling on the left to get among the goals now. When he tried to use pace, he was easily beaten while his passing was atrocious against Juventus.
Except for the quick shot on goal that was saved by Buffon and the assist for Messi’s first goal, Suarez cut a sorry figure for Barcelona, which was only further accentuated by a well-constructed goal that was ruled offside during the build-up.
Meanwhile, on the other flank, Ousmane Dembele did his best to run at the defence and get into dangerous positions, but his decision-making skills were still not up to the mark and he lost the ball in the final third more times than Valverde would have liked.
The Frenhman is yet to settle into the squad while Suarez needs to find his mojo back. A lot is dependent on Messi right now but both players need to get back to fiery form if Barcelona are to continue their winning momentum.
Juventus’ non-existent attack
Juventus had many chances in the first half but nothing seemed to materialize for the Italians. Marc-Andre ter Stegen was kept quite busy between the sticks but he was only really tested a couple of times from range. Juve opted to play on the counter-attack in the first half as Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti played around the centre-circle.
What Juve mainly failed to capitalize on was the amount of open spaces behind Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba who had pushed up field. Douglas Costa and Rodrigo Bentancur made a couple of good runs but their midfield failed to identify good opportunities, allowing the Barcelona full-backs to quickly recover in the nick of time and drop back.
Up front, both Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala failed to gel together. Both players looked shaky and seemed to have little understanding among themselves – a prospect which can prove to be extremely worrisome for Allegri, especially after seeing the relative ease with which Messi and Suarez kept finding each other.