THE FIRST GOAL
Barcelona’s first goal was the perfect example of why they are so hard to play against. It began in the relatively unthreatening situation of a throw-in on the left about 10 yards inside the Juve half. Ten passes later, as the ball was worked without apparent danger across the field, Dani Alves presented it to Lionel Messi. Up until that point, Juventus had defended the move relatively well. It was, though, slightly baffling to see Messi in such space, all be it just outside the centre-circle. Where, it might be asked, was Paul Pogba, who had a game in which he looked full of promise but still a little raw and naive?
Messi’s switch of play out to the left flank was devastating, but it was also predictable. He had, after all, played a very similar pass in the clasico earlier in the season. Juve seemed to have no notion of how to protect against that. They were exposed anyway by the narrowness of their midfield. That’s inevitable when a side plays a diamond and, to an extent, it was probably a risk they had to take: pack the centre, surrender the flanks and hope not to be undone by a cross. But playing so narrow meant there were always going to be avenues in front of Alves and Jordi Alba for them to pour forwards into.
Even that, perhaps, wouldn’t have mattered so much. Juve, to an extent, knew that the way they were playing was going to give Barca’s full-backs space. But Alba’s touch inside was perfect for Neymar. And that’s where Juve made a true mistake.
The Brazilian was held up and the momentum looked as though it may be going out of the attack when Andres Iniesta darted away from Arturo Vidal. Neymar suddenly had an option, played the ball inside, and Iniesta was able to square for Ivan Rakitic to score with what was, by then, a simple finish.
The goal, in others words, was a combination of three things: excellence from Barcelona, two moments of sloppiness from Juve, and what might be described as necessary weakness – Juve had to leave the flanks free.
JUVE’S RESTRICTIVE NARROWNESS
The narrowness of the Juve midfield didn’t just present attacking avenues to the Barca full-backs. It also hampered them as an attacking force.
In Serie A, much of Juventus’s attacking width comes through the full-backs. On Saturday, Patrice Evra and Stephan Lichtsteiner were so busy dealing with the threat of Messi and Neymar that they were able to advance only rarely – and it is significant that the Juventus goal came from one of the very few occasions when Lichtsteiner did get forward to run on to Claudio Marchisio’s backheel to cross.
THE ILLUSION OF PARITY
Juventus, as Max Allegri acknowledged afterwards, played about as well as they could have done.
There was a spell of about 10 or 15 minutes after their equaliser when the game really seemed in the balance, when you wondered whether Barca’s wastefulness in front of goal might cost them. But the fact is that Barcelona were always on top, and could have finished the game off in the first 20 minutes with slightly better finishing and had it not been for the brilliance of Gianluigi Buffon.
Juve battled hard, deserve credit for keeping going, for riding the punches and for making it a game rather than the procession it at one stage threatened to be, but on the balance of play, Barca were always in control.
THE INFLUENCE OF RAKITIC
When people take about how this Barca differs from the sides of 2009 and 2011, the tendency, understandably, is to focus on Neymar and Luis Suarez, but Rakitic has also had a huge impact. He may never achieve what Xavi did for the club, but his more direct passing style has been vital to their transformation.
His pass to Messi for Barca’s second goal was perfect: it was ideally weighted into Messi’s run, and was angled slightly to the left, giving Messi the opportunity to cut back across the defender into his right foot, who was what created space for the shot.
READ: Mark Jones on The Suarez and Neymar factor
BUSQUETS’S ONGOING EXCELLENCE
There is perhaps nobody in this Barcelona side so underrated as Sergio Busquets. He may be cynical and he continues to exaggerate pain at even the slightest contact, but he is a hugely necessary part of this Barcelona midfield.
He gives it balance, offers the defensive block that allows the full-backs to advance and is a far better passer than he’s given credit for, even if he does restrict himself to simple, largely risk-free football. Even in this new, more direct Barca, there is a role for somebody who doesn’t lose the ball.