Goals from Ousmane Dembele and a Lionel Messi penalty helped Barcelona to a morale-boosting 2-0 Champions League group stage win over Serie A champions Juventus. What were five talking points as Ronald Koeman’s men bounced back from their 3-1 El Clasico defeat to record a first victory in Turin, continuing their 100% record to begin this season’s UCL?
juventus 0-2 barca: koeman’s side gladly punish sloppy hosts
Dembele 14′ // Messi penalty 90′ // Demiral sent off 85′
Both sides were missing key players, though the pre-match build-up was dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo’s inability to feature after again testing positive for coronavirus on Tuesday.
His absence was certainly felt as Juve were bested at home by a Barca side that has been heavily criticised in recent months, but ultimately could’ve scored far more than the two they managed.
Álvaro Morata had a hat-trick of goals correctly ruled out for offside after VAR review and although the Spaniard’s efforts were admirable, there wasn’t much else to encourage under pressure head coach Andrea Pirlo watching from the sidelines.
It’s only been 38 days since Pirlo made his competitive managerial debut against Sampdoria.
Already, some disgruntled supporters feel the legendary midfielder’s tenure is destined to end the same way Maurizio Sarri’s did: with a whimper.
Merih Demiral, making his first Champions League start since December 2019, was sent off late on after a second booking for a needless lunging challenge on former teammate Miralem Pjanic.
It was that sort of game for Juve, who had no shots on target for the first time since their first-leg UCL last-16 defeat by Ligue 1 side Lyon in February. We all know how that tie ended.
Without further ado, here’s a look at five talking points from an intriguing watch in Turin.
#5 Lenglet and Roberto with quietly impactful defensive displays
On a night where Gerard Pique was out through suspension, first-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen (knee) remains sidelined and Ronald Araujo made his first UCL start, it’s unsurprising that two players alongside him led by example in a defensive sense without making much fuss.
Granted, the 21-year-old Uruguayan was replaced at half-time with an injury and Sergio Busquets’ inclusion prompted a reshuffle at the back, but the point still stands.
Neto didn’t have a save to make – after making six against Real Madrid on the weekend – and although Morata scored an offside hat-trick, it was Barcelona’s defensive positioning that did the trick. He didn’t seem to adjust accordingly and despite the Spaniard’s best efforts, left ruing his lack of fortune in a game that could’ve swung either way with more support from his teammates.
Federico Chiesa (on-loan from Fiorentina) was frustratingly quiet, while Dejan Kulusevski had a few encouraging flashes but not much more than that on the opposite flank.
Paulo Dybala wasn’t as involved as much as he, nor his teammates, would’ve liked and also cut a forlorn figure by full-time but all three players were effectively shut out by the visitors’ backline.
Jordi Alba (three clearances, one block and tackle) did his bit defensively too, but has often flattered to deceive off-the-ball against top opposition. The same cannot be said for Lenglet nor Roberto, who quietly go about their business and are reliable performers for a reason.
Between them, they recorded five interceptions, four tackles, two clearances and retained possession well – while winning fouls and committing necessary challenges when needed.
The picture above, where Roberto scythed down Chiesa was a perfect example of the sort of guile Barcelona don’t tend to utilise often enough. It’s why teams aren’t afraid to play them but the onus is on them to sustain this consistency all year round, rather than in a one-off setting.
#4 VAR didn’t help him, but alvaro Morata must keep his head up
Since returning to Turin on an initial one-year loan deal, it’s been a busy month for Álvaro Morata. He struggled during their 2-2 draw at Roma on September 27, but has scored or assisted in each of their last three games since then.
Here, he worked tirelessly and was Juventus’ best player but you could see his patience wearing thin as time ticked by – things weren’t improving, Barcelona were still ahead.
It could have been a very different game had he not been marginally offside before bundling home a rebounded effort past Neto moments after Dembele’s deflected opener.
You could say the same thing about his second or third goals – both first-time finishes, latching onto Cuadrado’s deliveries on both occasions.
Instead, he looked bemused and was almost pleading with referee Danny Makkelie for mercy as the Dutchman pointed to his ear before confirming another goal was chalked off.
Involved in as much build-up play as he could be with a team-low 30 touches over 90 minutes, you can only hope from a neutral perspective that Morata doesn’t let his head drop after this.
He’s a confidence player and finishing has never truly been his forte, but when Cristiano Ronaldo returns, it’ll be interesting to see how the pair dovetail in the final third.
#3 Griezmann’s drought continues, Barca must be more clinical
He came close, hitting the woodwork on two occasions, but Griezmann’s Barcelona goal drought has extended to ten competitive matches after drawing a blank against Juventus.
The £108m fee paid to Atletico last summer continues to appear damning and as the World Cup winner turns 30 in the first quarter of 2021, he’s already peaked. It’s downhill from there.
Lionel Messi continues showcasing his ability to influence matches with effortless ease and it’s remarkable to think he’s four years older than Griezmann.
The pair combined well at times and equally looked disjointed at others, on a night where Barcelona were visibly trying too much to pass the ball into Wojciech Szczesny’s goal.
Griezmann could’ve had a first-half assist after committing two Juventus defenders with a deft backheel flick, only for Messi to get his angles wrong and fire wide of the far post.
That being said, Antoine could’ve had three or four goals of his own with better luck and a more razor-sharp edge to his finishing. Szczesny made himself big to thwart Dembele after Messi’s intricate pass, but the ball dropped to Griezmann and he fluffed his lines from close-range.
Having hit the post less than two minutes into proceedings, he did so again after another defence-splitting Messi through ball in the second-half.
Somehow the scores were still finely poised at 1-0, until Ansu Fati was clumsily fouled by substitute Federico Bernardeschi and Messi made no mistake from twelve yards.
This was a better display by Griezmann, but he and Barcelona must be more clinical in future – the fact Juventus still had a chance to rescue a point was worrying.
#2 Pedri excites while Dembele’s confidence is slowly returning
After marking his Champions League debut with a goal against Ferencvaros last week, 17-year-old Pedri has enjoyed an encouraging start to life at Barcelona.
Having joined for £4.5m from LaLiga2 side Las Palmas in July, he made his first UCL start against the Serie A champions here and importantly showed no fear.
Whether it was his clever stepovers, winning duels against Juan Cuadrado, creating chances in the final third or tracking back to dispossess Paulo Dybala late on, he impressed throughout.
Barcelona are trying to complete a mini-rebuild by integrating fearless youngsters alongside more experienced veterans and in theory, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work.
Ansu Fati was a relevation last season and he turns 18 this weekend.
Pedri isn’t 18 for another month, while Sergino Dest (19), Francisco Trincao (20) and Riqui Puig (21) are just a handful of promising prospects they need to develop.
Meanwhile, there are players with a point to prove. I’ve already discussed Griezmann’s struggles settling into the Barcelona style of play, but Ousmane Dembélé started only his second game this season after more injury woes and marked it with a fortuitous finish.
It doesn’t matter how they go in, just that they do, and his deflected effort floated into the corner to leave Szczesny helpless – all starting from Messi’s clever switch of play.
Although he could’ve completed his brace before half-time, the goal itself will do him a world of good as the winger – still just 23 – aims to silence critics expecting him to depart after enduring inconsistency, injuries and general frustration during his three years at Barca.
The onus is on him to sustain a higher level of performance, like he displayed with Stade Rennais and then Borussia Dortmund before his big-money switch to Spain.
#1 Questions remain for stale Juve under Pirlo
Were Barcelona that good, or Juventus just really poor?
That’s a question that will remain long into the night for supporters and critics alike as Barca eased to a 2-0 win but didn’t have much in the form of resistance to stop them.
Post-match, captain Leonardo Bonucci told Sky Sport Italia that Juve made too many technical mistakes which made things easier for Barcelona. Tallk about stating the obvious.
The whole right-hand side of their team felt non-existent for large periods, while Danilo and Adrien Rabiot made more tackles (13) than the rest of the team combined.
They made it too easy for Messi and their former teammate Miralem Pjanic to get on the ball and play, were pulled apart on multiple occasions and fortunate it wasn’t five or six.
Yeah. they’re missing players. Alex Sandro (thigh), Giorgio Chiellini (muscle), Matthijs de Ligt (shoulder) and Ronaldo (COVID-19) are sidelined, but would they have made much difference?
In the grand scheme of things, probably not. Pirlo is still trying to implement his style of play on players who don’t appear to be comfortable carrying out those instructions.
He said post-match they need to be quicker when moving the ball forward, but that in itself seems like a fundamental idea which shouldn’t need much explaining.
Their issues run much deeper than that, of course, but it’s easier to lay blame on one man – Pirlo in this case – than a team packed with talent that hasn’t looked the same since the latter months of Massimiliano Allegri’s reign.
He knew the team were exhausted and needed a rebuild, so wisely stepped down with his reputation intact. How will Juventus progress under Pirlo? Time will tell.