The Argentine did his best to inspire Barcelona but they never looked capable of overturning a 3-0 deficit against a brilliant Bianconeri backline………………….
On what the Gazzetta dello Sport predicted would be a “Night of Giants”, every single player clad in a black-and-white shirt stood tall as Juventus withstood everything Barcelona threw at them to progress to the last four of the Champions League with impressive ease.
The Catalans had reached the quarter-finals with a historic comeback at Camp Nou against PSG but their remarkable achievement had been undeniably aided by weak-willed opponents.
On that magical evening, Barca’s “remuntada” the stuff of dreams became reality but Juve were always going to prove a nightmare to play against – even for a side containing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Bianconeri boss Massimiliano Allegri had spoken beforehand of his side’s intention to “go out to win the game again” but, in truth, after brutally exposing their opponents’ defensive deficiencies in Turin eight days ago, the visitors’ game plan was always going to be about containment. They pulled it off perfectly.
Barca may boast the best attacking triumvirate the game has ever seen but Juve have been almost singlehandedly keeping the dying art of defending alive over the past five years – and this was arguably their finest masterpiece to date, the scale of their achievement underlined by the fact that this was the first time the Catalans had been held scoreless at home in the Champions League for 20 games (May 2013, against Bayern Munich).
So good were Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of the Bianconeri backline that the home side only managed one shot on target. Juve treated what should have been an unrelenting storm as a soft Blaugrana breeze.
Chiellini, just as he had been in the first leg, was a colossus, completely nullifying the threat posed by Suarez. On the one occasion that the Uruguayan did get away from him, the Italy centre-half responded in predictable fashion: by taking him down outside the area.
Bonucci, meanwhile, produced a masterclass in understated excellence, never putting a foot wrong as he went about cutting out cross after cross and marshalling what was at times a six-man defence, with Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado dropping deep to support Alex Sandro and Dani Alves, respectively.
Barca simply had no response to Juve’s determined, disciplined defending and, in preventing the hosts from scoring in the first half of a Champions League game for the first time this season, the Italian champions effectively killed off all hope the hosts had of overturning their 3-0 first-leg deficit.
Admittedly, there was a narrow escape when Lionel Messi flashed a low drive wide 19 minutes in but, in truth, the enduring brilliance of Gianluigi Buffon was not required on the night.
The 39-year-old goalkeeper had made a crucial stop from Andres Iniesta when Juve were still only a goal to the good in the first leg but he was never truly tested at Camp Nou – further testament to the defensive excellence of Juve, who have conceded just twice in 10 games in this season’s Champions League – and not for a staggering 531 minutes.
Indeed, the only real sight of goal Barca had in the second half was when Buffon dropped a cross in the area. Even then, Messi could only volley high over the bar.
It was the Juve and Italy captain who once said, “Messi is an alien that dedicates himself to playing with humans.” However, even the Argentine, for all his other-worldly skills, never looked like beating Buffon.
Messi had never previously netted against the Juve shot-stopper and he was never going to on this particular night. Not when Buffon was surrounded and so ably supported by defensive giants.