Juventus never afraid of Barcelona comeback as defence stands firm
There is a saying that Juventus veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon likes to bring up when his side are warned about tough European away trips: "I have never seen the crowd score a goal."
Barcelona's Camp Nou was supposed to be different. "I am sure that if we score the first goal, the Camp Nou will score the second and the third will come of itself," manager Luis Enrique had insisted on the eve of a Champions League quarterfinal second in which Barcelona needed to overcome a 3-0 deficit. After all, it had taken just seven minutes for them to find the back of the net three times against PSG to complete a miraculous, "more complicated" comeback from 4-0 down (6-5 on aggregate) in the previous round.
But on Wednesday night, Juventus keep the crowd quiet, kept Lionel Messi quiet, and put in a wonderful defensive display to hold Barcelona to a 0-0 draw that sealed their progress to the semifinals.
Whatever your opinion of this Barca side -- and, after their exit, people have been every bit as quick to declare this the end of an era as they were in 2013 -- the club went into the game with a perfect record at the Camp Nou in Europe. Enrique had won every single match on home soil in the Champions League since getting the Barcelona job, dispatching visitors by an aggregate scoreline of 18-1 this season.
Understandably after their history-making exploits in the last round many were of the belief that nothing was impossible for this Barcelona team. The bookies immediately reinstalled them as favourites after their Lazarus act against PSG and Enrique didn't hesitate last week when asked if Barça could do it all over again. "We can score four against anyone," he proclaimed.
Barca are the top scorers in Europe's top five leagues with 143 goals; the MSN trio alone account for 92 of them and Luis Suarez and Neymar were both on the scoresheet when Barcelona beat Juventus in the final two years ago. Which is why Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri felt his team had to score twice, even with a 3-0 lead from the first leg, just to be on the safe side. His Milan side had beaten Barca 2-0 at San Siro and then lost 4-0 at the Camp Nou in 2013.
Mentally, games like these are so hard to prepare for because teams get caught between a gameplan of defending a lead or trying to add to it. In the build-up, Buffon cast his mind back to 2004 when Deportivo didn't seem to have a hope of overturning a 4-1 loss at San Siro but upset holders' Milan 4-0 at the Riazor. Then, of course, there is one-word that strikes fear into anyone defending a 3-0 lead: Istanbul. Milan, again, falling to Liverpool on penalties in 2005 after going in to the break three goals up.
Both those comebacks shocked the world. But Barca turning the tables on Juventus just wouldn't have the same resonance. Not after PSG. Everybody knows that, regardless of their flaws, this Barcelona team is capable of it. How many times in the last week did you hear: "If any team can do it, it's Barcelona?"
It stopped Juventus fully enjoying last week's 3-0 win. Peers reminded the players exactly what they were up against: Fabio Cannavaro recalled how the pitch at the Camp Nou is so big it seems to go on forever and that the ball never goes out of play; after losing 6-1, PSG's Marco Verratti apparently told Leonardo Bonucci something similar. "You can't press them. The spaces are enormous."
Bonucci, however, was completely unfazed. "But in 2013 you went there and drew 1-1," he replied, "and the pitch was as big then as it is now." If you want an insight into Juventus' character, there you have it. Unlike PSG and many other teams before them, they never once allowed Barcelona to get into their heads and unnerve them. Do that, and you're dead. "They're like sharks," Giorgio Chiellini explained. "They sense when you're afraid and they finish you." Juventus were never afraid.
From start to finish, Juventus believed. Shortly after Wednesday night's result, Bonucci published a video on Instagram from before the quarterfinal draw. "If on Friday the 17th we get Barcelona we'll knock them out," he says. "Signed Leonardo B." Bonucci was as good as his word.
If Allegri had wanted his side to score twice, it wasn't out of fear of conceding, it boiled down to three things: experience, realism and the confidence that his side could do it. In the end they didn't and although Allegri lamented the fact Juventus didn't take their chances, failing to make the most of some of their counter-attacks, the assuredness with which the team defended ensured he wasn't made to regret it.
"Everyone had a great game today," he marvelled. "When [Andrea] Barzagli came on, we could have played a whole day and not conceded."
Juventus haven't conceded in the Champions League for 531 minutes; only two teams in the Champions League era -- Ajax in 1995-96 and Arsenal in 2005-06 -- have got to this stage with as good a defensive record and it is only the third time Barça have been shut out in both legs of a knockout tie in that time as well. Neymar left the field in tears; Messi looked like he had been in a boxing match; Suarez was toothless.
While nights like Wednesday will be remembered for the defence, a recruitment strategy centred on making Juventus more of a skill and finesse team has paid off as they are now able to go to places like the Allianz Arena, Bernabeu and Camp Nou and feel comfortable passing while keeping the ball under pressure. Miralem Pjanic won't get the same headlines as Bonucci and Chiellini, but he put in a fine performance, cleverly launching attacks and releasing Juan Cuadrado to take the heat off the defence.
For Allegri, though, his team's biggest strength lies in "never getting carried away, but having the enthusiasm in good and in bad to face certain games and certain moments of the season, to face whatever's the most important thing that tomorrow brings and the unpredictable that can happen during a game. It's there that you need to be lucid and cool, without allowing anyone or anything to budge you."
Barcelona could not budge Juventus. And, on this form, the signs are that the remaining semifinalists -- Real Madrid, Atletico and Monaco -- will struggle to knock Allegri's side off their stride too.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.