The Italian Job: Juventus nullify Barca at the Camp Nou
BARCELONA – On an evening that had been termed the Night of Giants by the Italian media, Juventus’ defence stood firm against the attacking might of Barcelona. A 0-0 scoreline in the second leg was enough to see the Old Lady advance to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League with consummate ease and continue the Italian side’s dream of lifting a first European title for 21 years.
Ahead of Borussia Dortmund’s tie against Juventus in the 2015 edition of the Champions League, the then manager Jurgen Klopp described the task facing his German side as the most difficult in football. The challenge according to Klopp was to score against a Juventus side that would qualify with a 0-0 in the second leg.
On Wednesday night, Barcelona faced an even more problematic test after a 3-0 humbling at the Juventus Stadium last week left the Catalan giants needing a repeat of their heroics against Paris Saint Germain in the quarter-finals, to even stand a chance of qualification. There was to be no sequel. Juventus produced the sort of defensive masterclass, which has made Italian defending famous throughout Europe, to snuff out an attack including the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr. and complete a 3-0 aggregate victory.
Before kick off the Bianconeri boss, Massimiliano Allegri had spoken of Juventus’ intention to take the game to Barcelona and attempt to pull of a double against the Catalonians. Realistically however, the Italian plan was always going to revolve around containment and it worked to perfection.
Chiellini and Bonucci at the heart of the Juventus defence are two of the finest proponents of the dying art of defence and it is testament to their warrior like qualities, that Barcelona’s attacking triumvirate could only muster one shot on target across the entire 90 minutes.
Whilst Barcelona didn’t quite throw the kitchen sink at Juventus, the Catalonians totally failed to create any nervousness in the Italian ranks. As the final whistle sounded and the Bianconeri players embraced in celebration, Neymar burst into tears, with Suarez and Messi staring into the ether in disbelief.
“They built a mountain,” commented Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. The Spaniard lamented the fact that his side couldn’t scale its heights adding, “they were better than us, they deserved to go through.”
Two further statistics, which make excellent reading for the Juventus faithful are the fact that this is the first time the Catalan side has been nullified in the Champions League since May 2013 and that before Wednesday, the Barcelona manager Luis Enrique had won every previous home Champions League tie. Italian job complete.
"Barcelona failing to score goals over two legs is almost unheard of," said Allegri in the aftermath of the famous victory. "Everyone was extraordinary tonight and when Andrea Barzagli came on for Paulo Dybala in the 75th minute, it felt like we could have played for a whole day and not conceded."
“We did very well defensively, less so in attack where we failed to make the most of very promising counter-attacks. We were under the normal amount of pressure here, but it was a decisive step on the road to the final in Cardiff.”
Standing in the way of Juventus and a date with destiny in South Wales are Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Monaco, with all three teams posing different yet similarly tricky challenges. Atleti needed a hard-fought victory to overcome a spirited Leicester side in the quarters and are now looking to reach their third final in four years and avenge last year’s defeat to their neighbours Real Madrid.
Real, by contrast, enjoyed a controversial victory over Bayern Munich in the last eight with Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti immediately calling for a review of video technology in the wider game, after the sounding of the final whistle. The former Real and Chelsea boss was irked by two glaring errors, which saw Madrid awarded an offside goal and Bayern reduced to 10 men after a dubious red card.
In the game itself, a sixth Champions League hat trick for Cristiano Ronaldo ensured Real’s safe passage into the semi-finals for a seventh successive season. With the Portuguese maestro spearheading the Spanish giants’ attack, it would be a brave punter to bet against Zizou’s Madrid becoming the first team to successfully defend the UEFA Champions League in its modern guise.
AS Monaco, the dark horses of this year’s tournament, have the most potent attack in Europe so far this season. Les Rouges et Blancs have scored an unprecedented 92 domestic goals with five games still to go in the Ligue 1 campaign and had little difficulty in dispatching Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals. In Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and the French starlet Kylian Mbappé, the Monegasques have three of the most exciting young attackers in Europe and when coupled with the wily experience of Radamel Falcao, it isn’t too surprising that the goals have been flowing this season.
This year marks the fourth time in the history of the UEFA Champions League that Monaco have reached the semi-finals with the team aiming to go one better than the famous side of 2004, that were defeated by a young Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the final. In this edition, Fernando Morientes, Ludovic Giuly and Jerôme Rothen have been replaced by a new wave of young talent, but if recent matches are anything to go by, the weight of the Principality’s hopes is only serving to bolster the team’s performance.
The Bianconeri, The Old Lady of Italian football, have themselves undergone quite the transformation since 2011 and are once again in the last four of the Champions League. Following an impressive but not unthinkable run of 16 successive victories in Serie A this season, Juventus are poised to claim a sixth straight Scudetto since the move to their new stadium. During the past two seasons the team’s domestic dominance has been rewarded with two Coppa Italia titles. The only glaring absence from the club’s Renaissance is a UEFA Champions League trophy.