Messi’s brace drives the blaugrana passed Juventus on a magical night for the Argentine, and a nightmare 50 minutes from the Turin giants.
Packed with youngsters and in a forming stage, Allegri’s men have their work cut out for them to advance in the Champions League.
The biggest optimist among Juventus fans hoped for a draw going into the Camp Nou. Without the Champions League pedigree and experience of Marchisio, Khedira, Mandzukic, Cuadrado, Allegri chanced this luck by playing a 4-3-3 formation that is yet to complete its probation period.
Featuring in the starting line up were two younger players whom have had limited opportunities to star in official matches so far: Mattia De Sciglio, Allegri’s pupil, and 19 year old Uruguayan midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur. A courageous choice.
“Fortune”, Machiavelli wrote, “aids the audacious”, and so De Sciglio elects to hold the ball instead of developing play and shoot on goal, just to see Ter Stengen parry the ball in to corner (not given by the referee). Fortune smirked at young Bentancur too, who saw a ball fall to him near the six yard box, but his shot was deflected wide. That’s where fortune left off with Juventus on the night. De Sciglio was forced to leave with a muscle injury after an average performance, and Bentancur was swallowed up slowly like the rest of the team, until taken off toward the end of the match by an impalpable Bernardeschi.
Juventus’ first half, mainly featuring counter attacking plays, saw a few more chances with a square ball to Matuidi and a diagonal shot by Higuain, both deflected into corner kick.
The rest was all Barcelona. Ticky taka is the home brew and it flowed like fresh water melted from glaciers into a swollen river in spring. Ball possession, high pass completion, and attempts at goal flowed freely.
For the most part Juventus responded to this by sitting deep in order to reduce space – and did so effectively, until Messi broke the ice (and his goalless streak against Gigi Buffon) at what pundits consider to be the worst possible time: right before half time. On this goal, Juventus mistakenly played too high, with Barça taking advantage, building nicely through the back, and scoring through the middle.
The second half Barcelona picked up where they left off, and hit the post in the 51 min. Juve’s struggle in the build up, at this point, was evident to the naked eye, often losing the ball – too often unforced. Credit must be given to Barça for adding pressure to taste.
Messi’s magical performance was about one third of the way complete when he broke into Juve’s box and squared the ball across: with Rakitic picking up Sturaro’s poor attempt at clearing the ball and putting it in the old onion bag. The Argentine talisman completed his night with a brace by breaking across the 18 yard box and slotting the third goal passed Buffon.
The surprise employment of the aforementioned De Sciglio and Bentancur, and the baby Caligara (only 17) is no alibi for Allegri’s side. Alex Sandro (recovering from fever) was often ridiculed in one-be-ones, while Higuain stayed true to critics’ assertion that he peforms poorly in big matches.
In the end, Barça proved to be the uncontested better side on the night, too hard of a test for a Juventus that is still in its forming stages in terms of group dynamics, tactical amalgamation, and physical form.
Juventus will – as Allegri purported in his pre-game presser – have to gain their qualification to the next stages of the Champions League via wins in the “other matches”, namely those against Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos. Their works is cut out for them.