Lionel Messi was outshone by Paulo Dybala as his compatriot produced two sublime finishes to give Juventus a commanding 3-0 advantage over Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final.
Dybala has been keen to play down talk of him being Messi’s heir apparent for the Argentina national team, but twirling a wand of a left foot to fine effect on such occasions makes comparisons irresistible.
Having completed a seemingly impossible comeback by overturning a 4-0 first-leg deficit against Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round, Luis Enrique’s side now arguably face a tougher task.
It is scarcely credible to imagine Massimilino Allegri’s streetwise Juventus defence, marshalled superbly by Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – who scored the third 10 minutes after half-time – folding as the Ligue 1 champions did in the Camp Nou cauldron.
Outgoing Barca boss Luis Enrique once again deployed the hybrid 3-4-3 he fielded to see off PSG but the result was a disorganised rabble that was picked apart by Serie A’s dominant force.
The visitors were relieved to see Gonzalo Higuain plant his second-minute header from Miralem Pjanic’s s free-kick straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen, although another Argentinian proved more clinical five minutes later.
Jeremy Mathieu – a surprise selection on the left-hand side of defence – allowed Juan Cuadrado into the box and Dybala collected the pass to turn and finish on the angle with almost nonchalant cool.
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Barcelona were struggling for fluency but a moment of Messi magic almost helped them to level in the 21st minute.
Messi slid a delightful pass through to disarm the Juventus defence and pick out Andres Iniesta’s run but Gianluigi Buffon’s reaction save to his left was magnificent and soon had added value.
The visitors granted Dybala more room in the area than was wise and the 23-year-old crisply swept Mario Mandzukic’s cut-back past Ter Stegen into the bottom-left corner, with Gerard Pique partially blocking his goalkeeper’s view.
Barca’s woes were compounded when Messi thought he had reduced the deficit, only to be denied by offside after hustling Sami Khedira out of possession.
Luis Suarez was off target with a couple of headers but Juventus almost had another before the break – Higuain’s volley from the edge of the box bouncing awkwardly for Ter Stegen and Mathieu swiping the rebound behind.
The Frenchman’s most productive contribution was his last, as midfielder Andre Gomes came on at the break.
Juventus centre-back Bonucci halted Neymar – hit with a three-game domestic ban in the build-up that will rule him out of the Clasico against Real Madrid later this month – with an impeccable slide tackle early in the second period and Messi side-footed the loose ball wide from the edge of the box as Pjanic snapped at his heels.
Iniesta then clattered over as Barca appeared more at home in their tried and tested 4-3-3, though Ter Stegen held well down to his left as the space between midfield and attack remained for Cuadrado to exploit.
Dybala was screaming for a pass to complete his hat-trick when Higuain sprung the offside trap to blast at the Barcelona goalkeeper in the 54th minute.
A third Juventus goal suddenly felt on the cards and Chiellini obliged, outmuscling Javier Mascherano to guide Pjanic’s left-wing corner in via the inside of the near post.
As the fog of another debilitating defeat became thicker, Messi remained one of the few in red and blue to retain a clear head and his excellent 68th-minute pass deserved better than Suarez prodding wide.
Chiellini flung himself towards Neymar and was fortunate to escape punishment when the Brazilian’s shot spun up to his outstretched arm, while a late Barcelona rally amounted to nothing.
After Saturday’s shock 2-0 loss at Malaga left their LaLiga title defence in tatters, there was a worrying familiarity in Luis Enrique’s side being outgunned by high-class opponents. This time, surely, there can be no way back.
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