A 3-0 result in a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal is a remarkable feat, but when the team on the wrong end of that result is FC Barcelona, the question arises – why Barcelona were humbled by Juventus in Turin, particularly from the Catalan club’s perspective:
No Sergio Busquets in midfield
It may seem strange to the casual observer that Sergio Busquets’ absence from a glittering Barcelona side would affect them so adversely. But, the defensive midfielder does a job which few can without much fuss. Without the suspended Spaniard, Ivan Rakitic and Andries Iniesta were left chasing shadows as the combined might of Sami Khedira and Mirajlem Panic proved to be too much to handle. His return for the second leg at the Camp Nou couldn't have come sooner for the Catalans.
Gerard Pique has a shocker
Long considered among the finest central defenders in the world, Gerard Pique had a shocking game against Juventus. At fault for the opener, inexplicably allowing Paulo Dybala to swivel and shoot inside the box, Pique didn't really improve from there on. The third goal and the one which might just be Barcelona’s final nail in the coffin was also partly Pique’s fault. Javier Mascherano is a fine player but the stout Argentine simply does not have the physical presence to mark the 6’2 Giorgio Chiellini. So when Barcelona knew Juve’s main goal scoring threat would come either via a counter or a set-piece, why was Pique not marking anyone, when he should have been marking the Italian defender?
The expectations at Barcelona for any player are enormous, but when you are the most lethal attacking trio in history, they go up several notches. That is why MSN (Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar) are expected to perform week in, week out. While Messi was shackled by the Italians, Suarez in particular seemed to have lost his scoring touch on the night. Twice he had a chance to pull a goal back but failed to do so on both counts, Neymar, whose domestic suspension had been announced close to kick-off, was on the receiving end of a few robust challenges early on, and put in a subdued performance most unlike him. With Juventus focusing on keeping Messi under wraps, Suarez and Neymar should have pressed forward with the extra space they were afforded, yet put in largely anonymous shifts.
No man-marking on Paulo Dybala
Juventus are a fine team, but a free-scoring one they are not, especially in Europe. So lock up Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala and a majority of their goals will vanish. Without any disrespect towards Gonzalo Higuian, who is a fine forward but one who does not conjure goals on his own, Dybala remains Juventus’ danger man. After a season and a half at Turin, the 23-year-old is not an unknown quantity, so why could Barca not put a man on him throughout the 90 minutes? While not a sure-shot guarantee that they could have kept him quiet, it would certainly have stifled the young forward to some extent.
Jeremy Mathieu’s inclusion in the starting XI
A sign of a manager admitting he got a player selection wrong is his subsequent substitution at half-time. And Luis Enrique made a major blunder by picking the clunky Jeremy Mathieu at left-back. While he did eventually make the change, the damage was done in the first 45 minutes.
Again, when you know Juventus is a team that like to play on the counter, why would you pick a player whose biggest weakness is his lack of speed? A puzzling decision by the normally astute Barca manager for sure.