Italian giants Juventus welcomed Catalan super club Barcelona to the Allianz Stadium for a colossal Champions League group stage clash on Wednesday evening. The meeting between two of European football’s highest profile sides represented a chance for both to progress from Group D, with a draw being enough for Barca, while Juve would need Sporting Lisbon to slip up at home if their own clash ended level. Some of the headlines were perhaps written before the game even kicked off, as the announcement came that Lionel Messi would start on the bench, but with so much talent on display for both sides this was always destined to be a sensational game, regardless of the score line.
A cagey start to a crucial game
Unsurprisingly Barcelona looked to dominate the early possession and control the tempo of the game, but it was the home side who started the brighter. Douglas Costa had an early effort saved well by Ter Stegen, and Juventus looked as if they would be a constant threat on the break, especially given how high the visitors were playing from the off. Barca were able to soak up much of the pressure however and as they began to settle into the game their methodical passing allowed them to push Juventus back towards their own goal.
Much of Barcelona’s attacking threat came down the right flank, and the movement of Gerard Deulofeu in particular was exceptional in the opening 20 minutes. For all their possession however Ernesto Valverde’s side struggled to create anything clear-cut against a hugely experienced, if slightly depleted, Juventus defence. Much of the first half was defined by errors as both sides looked fairly tentative in possession, which was certainly uncharacteristic of such impressive players.
The stalemate continues
The first real chance of the game fell to Paulinho on the 20-minute mark following an elusive free kick by Ivan Rakitic. The ball was floated in and missed everyone, fooling Buffon and rebounding off the post into the path of the Brazilian, who couldn’t react quickly enough to direct his header goalwards and the chance went begging. The near miss seemed to spark Juventus into action and they began to probe for an opener, though they lacked a final killer pass to open up a Barca defence that was certainly presenting a few openings. The tempo of the game remained perplexingly slow however, perhaps due to the fact that a draw would suit both sides, especially if results elsewhere went in Juve’s favour.
That said there was far too much quality on show for this to be a dull game, and there were individual moments of skill and class from the likes of Paulo Dybala and Sergio Busquets in particular. The absence of Lionel Messi was certainly felt by the visitors as they lacked any real creativity for much of the first half, and missed his driving force from midfield. Paulo Dybala meanwhile, the man widely acknowledged as the Argentine’s footballing heir, almost opened the scoring after a darting run of his own. The tricky forward drove past Pique into the left hand side of the box and struck a venomous shot, but the ball flashed just over the bar. That was to be the final action of the first half, and the two teams went into the break locked firmly in a frustrating stalemate.
Lionel Messi enters the fray
The second period continued in much the same fashion to the first with Barcelona dominating the possession and controlling the midfield areas, limiting the home side’s ability to look for Dybala and Higuain further up the field. To their credit the visitors did seem more eager to find a goal than they had in the first half, and they often looked to switch play to Deulofeu on the right flank to catch out Juve’s regimented back three. Interestingly however the Spaniard was the player who made way for Messi after 55 minutes, and the arrival of the talismanic Argentine immediately lifted the tempo of the game.
Messi swiftly began to provide the perfect outlet for every Barca attack, and the likes of Iniesta and Rakitic looked for him at every available opportunity. On the hour mark it looked as if the man himself had finally broken the deadlock with a wonderful free kick, but the ball rippled the top of the net and Juventus hung on. In truth it was all the home side could do to cling on as they struggled to get out of their own half, which was perhaps a testament to Barcelona’s intense pressing game. The intensity almost paid off when Lucas Digne found himself one-on-one with Buffon but the French fullback decided to square it to Suarez rather than take the shot on himself, and his pass was ultimately cut out before reaching the Uruguayan.
Both sides accept a point
As the clock ticked closer to the final whistle it looked as if both sides had settled for a point, and this notion was confirmed when Juan Cuadrado made way for Claudio Marchisio to sure up Juventus’ midfield, and Jordi Alba replaced Iniesta. In truth it was difficult to discern whether both sides’ defences were performing at the top of their game, or whether the respective star studded forward lines were misfiring in this game.
Neither Suarez nor Higuain seemed to have any real impact in the game and their touches were few and far between, and Messi did not have quite the impact that many expected him to after his entry from the substitute’s bench. On a night when PSG netted seven goals against Celtic, this result highlighted the incredible task that even some of the best teams in Europe will face trying to make it deep into this prestigious competition. Everything could have changed had Dybala buried the final chance of the game, but his low driven shot was saved brilliantly by Ter Stegen, and the game ended honours even.
A draw was perhaps not the result that Juventus would have wanted at home, especially as Sporting Lisbon ran out as 3-1 winners in their game. They do however head into their final game – a home clash against bottom of the group Olympiacos – likely needing just a point to make it through the group as runners up. The Old Lady lacked any real threat going forwards, but they are certainly capable of scoring against any team on their day. One has to feel that much will hinge on the draw that Juve get heading into the knockout stages, with some big teams topping the other groups.
Ultimately this was a premeditated, disciplined defensive performance from Barcelona, which is not a style that is often associated with the Catalan club. The draw however was all Ernesto Valverde’s side needed to top the group and secure qualification to the knockout stages, and they earned that result in what was a fairly scrappy game. Barca undeniably have to talent to go far in the competition, and this ability to grind out the result they want will be incredibly useful in knockout football.
Juventus: Buffon; Barzagli, Rugani, Benatia, Alex Sandro; Pjanic (Bentacur, 66’), Khedira; Cuadrado (Marchisio, 71’), Dybala, Douglas Costa (Matuidi, 85’); Higuain
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Digne; Rakitic, Paulinho, Busquets, Iniesta (Alba, 82’); Suarez, Deulofeu (Messi, 56’)
Referee: Milorad Mazic
Yellow Cards: Pjanic (21’), Paulinho (30’), Alex Sandro (72’), Digne (87’), Pique (90+1’)
Red Cards: None
Juventus: Buffon 7; Barzagli 7, Rugani 7, Benatia 7, Alex Sandro 6; Pjanic 6 (Bentacur 6), Khedira 6; Cuadrado 6 (Marchisio 6), Dybala 6, Douglas Costa 6 (Matuidi n/a); Higuain 5
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 7; Semedo 7, Pique 6, Umtiti 7, Digne 6; Rakitic 7, Paulinho 6, Busquets 7, Iniesta 7 (Alba n/a); Suarez 5, Deulofeu 6 (Messi 6)
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