Recap of the action from Barcelona’s scoreless draw against Juventus.
Barcelona secured the solitary point in Turin that was needed for the Catalans to secure first place in Group D. The scoreless draw will not go down as one of the better games of football this season, but Ernesto Valverde seemingly went into the game going for the point and make the last group stage match against Sporting a mere formality from Barcelona’s standpoint.
For the first time this season, not counting the Copa del Rey match against Real Murcia, Lionel Messi did not start for Valverde’s Barcelona. The Argentine was on the bench for this one, while Paulinho and Gerard Deulofeu started alongside Luis Suarez in attack. The only other surprise in the Barcelona lineup was that Lucas Digne began the match over Jordi Alba on the left side of the defense.
The match started in very lively fashion, with both sides looking to attack in numbers and looking strong in defense. The hosts were the first to threaten, as Douglas Costa fired from deep in the penalty area after a quick Juventus counter attack, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen made the strong save. Barcelona looked threatening in attack, but breaching the last Juve line proved difficult. As a result, the only two shots Barcelona took in the early going came from distance, but Paulinho was both times off the mark.
Both teams looked solid in defense, especially Juventus, but in quick succession around the quarter hour mark both teams made mistakes that resulted in scoring chances. First, Juan Cuadrado misplaced a header back to Gianluigi Buffon, but from a very tough angle Andres Iniesta couldn’t threaten. On the other side just moments later, first Iniesta and then Samuel Umtiti made rare turnovers resulting in a Paulo Dybala shot from the right side, but ter Stegen was again in the perfect position to make the save.
Barcelona came within inches of scoring in the 22nd minute. Iniesta won a free kick a long way from Buffon from which Ivan Rakitić looked to set up one of his teammates in the danger area. But his long ball went untouched and hit Buffon’s left post. The rebound hit Paulinho, but with no time to react the Brazilian couldn’t direct the header on goal.
Neither side was able to create much over the next minutes, but there was still plenty of action on the pitch as both teams looked to play quick, attractive football. Just after the opening 30 minutes play was stopped by referee Milorad Mažić as not one, but two Barcelona defenders were taken out by Cuadrado. The Colombian pushed Digne under the oncoming Umtiti, leaving both down. Digne was fairly quick to get up, but Umtiti needed more time, clenching his knee while receiving assistance, but after some time and a few wobbly steps he too was able to continue.
Oftentimes Juventus looked the more dangerous team on the pitch, but apart from the two early shots by Costa and Dybala, Juve couldn’t create many scoring chances. Barcelona wasn’t faring much better on the other end, but on a couple occasions, which often included a great run from Nelson Semedo, the “only” thing that was missing was a slightly more accurate final pass.
Even though they didn’t especially excel, Barcelona didn’t look bad in attack, but the Catalans didn’t manage a shot on goal until the 43rd minute when Deulofeu sent a hopeful shot from the edge of the area that Buffon saved easily. Juventus countered quickly with Dybala playing catalyst by starting the quick attack. The Argentine was moments later inside the Barcelona area taking the shot, but he shot over the crossbar.
Neither manager made any changes to their personnel, but several players started to warm up immediately after the break, including Messi who was stretching on the sideline. On the pitch, the tactical battle continued, but Barcelona threated first. Suarez fired a dangerous free kick from 25 yards out destined for the top corner, but a slight redirection in the wall by Andrea Barzagli sent the ball just over the bar, resulting in the first corner kick for either side, but Barcelona couldn’t threaten from it or from the one moments later.
But Barcelona continued to push forward, pinning Juventus back, looking to finally somehow break through the Juventus back-line. Barcelona tried to break through either flank or through the middle, but with no luck. In the 56th minute Valverde brought on a weapon from the bench – Messi, who replaced Deulofeu.
As it has so often during previous seasons, Juve’s defense looked impenetrable, even without its talisman Giorgio Chiellini who was out injured. Even with Messi on the pitch there was a certain lack of rhythm in attack and Juventus were able to stop most Barcelona attacks without much fuss. Barcelona did have a great chance to open the scoring in the 67th minute when Messi brilliantly, with some help from Cuadrado, found the onrushing Digne. One-on-one with Buffon, the Frenchman opted against the shot but instead went looking for Suarez in the middle, but the pass was intercepted and the excellent opportunity went begging.
Valverde waited to make his second substitution until the 82nd minute. To a standing ovation, Inesta was taken off the pitch for some well-deserved rest before a massing fixture against Valencia. He was replaced by Jordi Alba to play in midfield – and he quickly made a mistake in possession that led to a shot off target by Juventus.
Both teams appeared to have hit the cruise control button late in the game, neither willing to risk much as a draw was more than enough for Barcelona while Juventus would still control their own fate for second place. But with Barcelona pulling back, Juve went forward, hopeful for a shot that would result in win and leave Juventus with an outside chance at first place. In added time Juventus did get their chance for the winning goal, with Dybala curling a shot from the edge of the area, but ter Stegen brilliantly dove to his right to preserve the point for the Catalans.
Barcelona still have one game left in the Champions League before the competition breaks for winter, but expect heavy rotation as Barcelona have secured first place. On Sunday, however, expect Valverde to field his best available team against Valencia.