Juventus masterclass eliminates Barcelona from Champions League
BARCELONA, Spain -- Here are three thoughts from the Camp Nou as Juventus held firm against Barcelona's pressure to advance 3-0 on aggregate (0-0 on Wednesday night) to the Champions League semifinals.
1. Barca can't mount another magic comeback
Since their comeback against Paris Saint-Germain last month, there has been a huge poster outside Barcelona's stadium that reads, "Welcome to Camp Nou, history happens here." There was no history made Wednesday, though -- at least not as far as Barca were concerned, as they were held to a goal-less draw by Juventus and eliminated from the Champions League.
Barca coach Luis Enrique had called for "another magical night," but the damage was done last week in Turin. Even one goal proved too hard to come by against a Juve side that have now gone 531 minutes without conceding in the Champions League.
The five goals Luis Enrique had predicted would be needed to progress to the semifinal never looked like a possibility. That was not for a lack of chances but for a lack of finishing against a streetwise opponent. Lionel Messi was the most guilty, and Gianluigi Buffon might have been surprised by how little he was called into action, but in hindsight, Juve were never likely to crumble. The defensive spine of Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini had far too much quality to let the occasion get to them like PSG did. They knew what they had to do, and they did it, becoming the first team to not lose to Luis Enrique's Barca at the Camp Nou in the Champions League in 16 games.
Now the Italian champions move into the last four and not Barca, who exit at this stage for the second time in two years. Luis Enrique has been unable to hit the standards he set in his first season, and next year it will be someone else's chance. This year, though, could still belong to Massimiliano Allegri and Juve.
As if there were any doubts, it took less than five minutes for the Serie A side to show that they would not collapse like PSG did. Pressing high, there was an early chance for Gonzalo Higuain, as they looked to get the goal that would leave Barca needing five to advance. Luis Enrique's side did then grow into the game, regaining possession and creating half-chances. With Jordi Alba behind him, Neymar looked much livelier in 20 minutes here than he did in 90 in Turin.
There were small signs that the comeback could be on again. Juve weren't panicking, but there was a goal-kick punted into touch by Buffon, and the Camp Nou crowd began to sense blood. Even when they won the ball back, the Italian champions contrived to give it straight back to Barca, often to the credit of the home team's pressure.
However, there were even more signs that the comeback was not on. Andres Iniesta said Tuesday that Barca would have to produce the perfect game, perhaps their best performance of the season. That presumably would have meant Messi scoring the best chance of the first half when an Alba cross found him in the box. Instead he drove wide.
Juve did counter and elicited some brilliant defending from Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti, acting as last men, but there were also two more wasted chances for Higuain. You felt that Barca needed a goal before the break, but it didn't arrive. Neymar volleyed wide, again set up by Alba, and Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitic were both off-target with midrange efforts. Buffon then made the first save of the game, diving low to his right to keep out an aggressive Messi strike; the Argentine international lashed the rebound into the side netting from a tight angle.
Barca flew forward in the second half, which left them open at the back, but neither team had brought their shooting boots. Juan Cuadrado dragged an effort wide for the visitors, and then Neymar blazed wildly over after beating Alves.
Luis Enrique tried to force things by swapping striker Paco Alcacer in for Rakitic in a daring move. Messi fired one of the better second-half chances over the bar, and Sergi Roberto's left-footed rasper curled just wide. At one stage in the second half, Barca had 12 shots; 11 of them were off-target.
"Don't leave after 80 minutes," Luis Enrique had warned before the match. People didn't, but by the 88th minute (the time of Neymar's first goal against PSG), they were creeping out. This was a step too far. The comeback was not going to happen again. In honesty, it was probably never even on.
2. Juve's defence makes them the biggest UCL threat
Dani Alves said Tuesday that knocking out his former side would mean eliminating the best team in the world. That might be up for debate, but if it isn't Barca, then surely it's another Spanish team, Real Madrid.
Between them, Barca and Madrid have won the past three Champions Leagues. Throw in Atletico Madrid, and Spanish teams account for five of the past six finalists in this competition. Juve, in 2014, are the only team from another country to reach the final since Bayern Munich played Borussia Dortmund in 2013, and with Madrid and Atletico into the last four, we might yet have another all-La Liga final. The most likely threat to that hegemony comes from Juve, though, as they proved against Barca.
In the first leg, they showed off their attacking qualities as Paulo Dybala starred with two goals. At the Camp Nou, they showed off their more traditional attributes. They're ridiculously strong in defence and have conceded just twice in 10 European games this season. They haven't let in a goal since the group stages.
Juventus have the experience and mentality needed to be crowned Europe's best, but they also have that hunger. This is a side that hasn't won the Champions League since 1996, and they're spurred on equally by that painful defeat in the 2014 final. They have done all they can do domestically, and this year might see them take the next step forward on the continent.
3. Barca's season rests on Sunday's clasico
This was the first of two games in five days that will define Barcelona's season. They left themselves too much to do against Juve, and now they have to pick themselves up for a trip to Real Madrid on Sunday. Defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu will leave with too much to do in La Liga as well.
Yet the hosts can take confidence from this performance, despite their elimination. There might not have been any goals (not even from 45-goal top scorer Messi, who had a string of chances), but there were positive signs. Pique, Umtiti and Sergio Busquets all looked good, while Neymar was a constant threat, though he is suspended for the Madrid game.
Defeat in the Spanish capital ultimately doesn't bear thinking about. It would leave them six points behind Madrid having played a game more, but it would also mean the season would be classified as a write-off. They would still have the Copa del Rey final to come, but Barca's success is largely conditioned by how well Madrid do. Watching Zinedine Zidane's side lead the table and still in the hunt for the Champions League would hurt.
Three trophies arrived in Luis Enrique's first season, followed by two more last year. The bar has been set so high that if that trend continues and the pot count drops to one this season, the campaign will not be one to be remembered. It's not the goodbye Luis Enrique will be hoping for.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.