In any other era, against any other team, three goals without reply in the first leg of a European quarter-final would ordinarily be enough to win a tie, but Juventus know that at the Nou Camp strange and marvellous things have happened before, and they might just happen again.
Even on a night like this, the Italian champions hardly needed telling that Paris Saint-Germain scored four against Barcelona in Paris in the previous round and that turned out to be insufficient to eliminate this great late-Lionel Messi era team.
Despite their wretched away form this season, Barcelona are still doing many of the brilliant things that Barcelona used to do, just not all the parts function any longer.
They meet for the much-anticipated second leg next Wednesday and in the meantime Juventus, who have conceded just two Champions League goals all season, have this masterful win. Now all they have to do is avoid being taken apart piece by piece, in the same way PSG were three weeks after their greatest ever European result.
On this night were two fine goals by the young Argentine Paulo Dybala, another from the old warhorse Giorgio Chiellini and plenty of the hard yards from a Juventus team who had their opposition swirling around the battlements for most of the evening.
This was not a bad Barcelona performance by the standards of their catastrophe in Paris in the previous round, it was just they could not find a way through.
They will need three goals in the second leg at least to have a chance of a Champions League semi-final place in Luis Enrique’s final season and while it is hard to see them pulling off another escape, it is not impossible. For all the frustrations he might have felt, there were still some moments of remarkable quality from Messi, although precious little from Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Enrique said afterwards that it felt like “the third half of the Paris game”.
“I am always an optimist but I can always grieve too,” he said. “I feel 100 per cent responsible for what happened and that is heavy to take but from tomorrow we must get up and have to think about trying to come back. It was a nightmare but it’s part of football, like life itself.”
It was a great evening for Massimo Allegri, currently favourite to succeed Arsene Wenger at Arsenal whenever that job becomes available.
“It’s not over, football is a strange game and we will have to play a game with even more courage,” he said. “They scored six goals against PSG so we have to look to score a goal. The lads want to get to the final and we have to work for that. We know it will be difficult.”
PSG took 55 minutes to score three in their home leg against Barcelona in February and it took exactly the same time for Juventus to do the same. All but one of Barcelona’s eight defeats this season have come away from home and they were undone early on by the quick feet and sharp mind of Dybala.
What strikes you first about the 23-year-old Argentine of Polish and Italian heritage is the economy of movement and swiftness of execution with which he approaches his chances around goal. His first strike required two touches and his second just the one to sweep the ball left-footed past Marc ter Stegen from the edge of the area and give Juventus control of the game at half-time.
The hard centre of Juventus’ midfield, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic, was augmented by periods of full press from their team-mates. There were other times when they withdraw into a compact shape to soak up the pressure and then at the end they were forced permanently onto the back foot.
Dybala’s first started when the ball went right to Juan Cuadrado and he played it into the area to the Argentine who switched it from right foot to left and stroked his shot beyond ter Stegen.
The second, 20 minutes later, he met first time with his left foot from a cutback from the left, whipping a shot around Gerard Pique and just inside the right post of ter Stegen’s goal.
Messi had a goal disallowed for Luis Suarez’s offside position. Then the brilliant Gianluigi Buffon saved from Andres Iniesta when Messi had threaded the pass of the match to him, straight through the heart of Juventus, a miraculous ball that took out five opponents and scarcely had an angle on it.
Javier Mascherano was moved back to centre-half in a half-time defensive re-organisation by Enrique and the Argentine looked like he was fouled for the third goal which Chiellini headed in over him from a corner.
Juventus were clinging on to the clean sheet at the end, their seventh in the Champions League this season, and steadying themselves for the storm that awaits next week.
Source: Sam Wallace