A 3-0 win at the Juventus Stadium in the first leg was enough to see the Old Lady through to their 12th Champions League semi-final after a defensive masterclass at the Camp Nou to keep Barcelona at bay in a 0-0 draw. Barcelona peppered the Italians’ goal, but failed to repeat their last-16 heroics as Juventus stood firm in an exceptional defensive performance. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were all wasteful in front of goal on a night where Barcelona were limited to just a single shot on target.
Juventus became only the third team in history to shut Barcelona out across two legs of a Champions League knockout tie, joining Manchester United (2007/08) and Bayern Munich (2012/13). Here are five important things we learned as the Old Lady keep their dream alive of winning their first Champions League since 1996.
Buffon gets better with age
There’s no stopping Gianluigi Buffon. Last night’s clean sheet was his 46th in the Champions League; only Iker Casillas (54), Edwin van der Sar (50) and Petr Cech (47) have more than the Italian. The result also meant that Messi is still yet to score past Buffon during their careers, whilst this was Buffon’s seventh clean sheet in nine Champions League games this season, conceding only two goals. As a whole, Juventus haven’t conceded a single goal from open play in the Champions League this season and a large part of that is down to Buffon’s solidity in goal.
Juventus’ defensive masterclass
Forget Donald Trump’s wall, he should look to purchase Juventus’ defence. Despite the furore surrounding Buffon and his clean sheets, it’s telling that he only had to make one save at the Camp Nou. Juve’s defence was phenomenal as they successfully shut out Barcelona twice in two weeks. Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, in particular, shone and ably led Juve’s back line on a tough evening.
If it wasn’t Bonucci with a tackle, Chiellini would be on hand to intercept the danger and they made a combined 13 tackles. Credit is due, also, to Miralem Pjanic, whose 14 tackles were more than the centre-back pairing. They also made five blocks and nine interceptions to keep ‘MSN’ in check.
Juventus were penned in their own box for large portions of the match.
The above heat-maps depict the whole story. The dark orange splodges highlight that Barcelona kept Juventus penned into their own defensive third, spending most of the game in and around their penalty area, but they stood tall and didn’t’ crumble under pressure. The performance was in complete contrast to the Paris Saint-Germain side that arrived to defend a 4-0 lead. The Italians were calm in possession on the few occasions they had the ball and were confident in their roles at the back in a performance exuding experience.
Barcelona’s season to unravel
After such a heroic comeback against PSG in the previous round and a close race at the top of La Liga, Barcelona seemed to have their season back on track for a strong finale in what will be Luis Enrique’s last campaign. However, it all seems to be unravelling as we enter the business end of the season. Barcelona had 19 shots last night, a total of 35 across two legs, but they were wasteful and weren’t able to find a way around Juve’s resilience. Messi, in particular, had a difficult night, shooting off-target five times, the most in a Champions League game since September 2015.
The result means Enrique’s Barcelona will be absent from the semi-finals for the second consecutive season and their La Liga campaign comes to a head in the El Clasico on the weekend. They’re still in the Copa del Rey, but such a meagre reward is scant consolation for another disappointing year.
Neymar can’t save Barcelona again
The key component of the previous round’s comeback, Neymar wasn’t able to repeat history as he ended the night in tears, consoled by friend and former teammate Dani Alves. The Brazilian tried to make things happen for his team and tested the Juve defence time and time again, attempting a staggering 20 take-ons and winning 13 of them, more than the entire Juventus side could manage (12) and more than his teammates combined (6).
He was also a defensive presence, winning four of his six attempted tackles, but frustration got the better of him at times, picking up a needless yellow card for a challenge on Pjanic that would have ruled him out of the semi-final first leg had Barca progressed.
Dybala more important than Higuain
If there was anything to emerge from both legs, it’s the fact that Pablo Dybala might just be important to Juventus than £75m striker Gonzalo Higuain. Higuain was ineffective in both legs of this tie and his typically clinical finishing went missing as he spurned a chance to kill of the game at the Camp Nou, firing harmlessly into Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Fellow compatriot Dybala, however, had a mixed two legs, largely unable to affect the second leg, but he was the key in the first. Tipped as Messi’s Argentinian heir, Dybala’s role across the tie enhanced his reputation and helped stake his claim as Juve’s most important player, scoring twice in the first leg and proving that he’s capable of performing on the big stage.
Can Juventus win their first Champions League since 1996? Will Barcelona’s season end tamely? Let us know in the comments section below.