Barcelona were unable to pull off another miraculous Champions League comeback as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Juventus at the Nou Camp.
Luis Enrique’s side, who trailed 3-0 from the first leg, failed to break down Juve’s stubborn defence as they crashed out at the quarter-final stage for the second successive season.
Can they pick themselves up in time for Sunday’s crucial Clasico with Real Madrid? We take a look at some of the issues facing the Catalan giants as they bid to keep their La Liga hopes alive.
While Real Madrid go into Sunday’s Clasico on the back of a morale-boosting victory over Bayern Munich, Barcelona will head to the Bernabeu following another heavy blow to their confidence.
Luis Enrique’s side have endured a wretched 10 days. They missed the opportunity to move level with Madrid at the top of La Liga when they were beaten 2-0 at Malaga, then there was that costly 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin. A narrow victory over Real Sociedad followed, but Wednesday night’s stalemate means they are now on their worst run of the entire season.
Neymar’s tears summed up the mood among the players after their latest setback, and the timing is far from ideal. Barcelona are three points behind Madrid having played a game more, leaving them under pressure to claim a win at the Bernabeu, where Zinedine Zidane’s side have only lost once all season.
It is a daunting prospect for a side with a dismal record in big away games this season. Barcelona have already been heavily beaten by Manchester City, PSG and Juve on the road. Their next task will be even tougher if they cannot repair their confidence.
Barcelona are appealing Neymar’s three-match La Liga suspension for his sending off against Malaga, but the expectation is that he will not be available to face Real Madrid. His performance against Juventus underlined just how big a miss he would be at the Bernabeu.
The Brazilian was a constant threat, ripping into his former team-mate Dani Alves over and over again. The stats highlighted his influence. As well as having more touches than anyone else on the pitch, Neymar completed a remarkable total of 13 successful dribbles – more than any other player in any Champions League game since 2014.
The only possible criticism of his performance was that he failed to convert the chances that came his way. He should have done better than volley wide from Jordi Alba’s cut-back midway through the first half, and there was another wild effort after a jinking run early in the second period.
But his effort could not be questioned. Neymar tried everything to unlock Juve’s defence, but at the final whistle he could only collapse to the turf in tears. Paco Alcacer, the player likely to replace him at the Bernabeu, only touched the ball seven times and completed two passes in his 33 minutes on the pitch.
Barcelona kept their first clean sheet in four games but the ease with which they were cut open by Juventus suggests their recent defensive problems are not over. Indeed, they were fortunate that Massimiliano Allegri’s side did not capitalise on one of their early counter-attacks.
Luis Enrique has reverted to four at the back after a period of using a three-man defence, but it seems to have brought little extra stability. Juve’s attacking opportunities were partly down to Barcelona throwing so many bodies forward in search of goals, but it was a similar story against Real Sociedad on Saturday.
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If any side can punish them, it’s Real Madrid. Zidane’s side have scored 29 goals at an average of just under three per game over their last 10 fixtures. With La Liga glory within reach, they will be desperate to continue that run at the Bernabeu on Sunday. For Barcelona’s creaking backline, it will be a formidable test.
Barcelona will also need to find their finishing boots before Sunday. Luis Enrique’s men had 19 shots on goal over the course of the 90 minutes on Wednesday night, but only hit the target with one of them. It was the first time since their 2012/13 semi-final with Bayern Munich that they have failed to score in both legs of a Champions League knockout tie.
Lionel Messi was the worst offender, blazing high and wide on occasions when everyone inside the Nou Camp expected to see the net ripple. In total, he hit six of his seven shots off target. Against Madrid, he and his team-mates can ill-afford the same kind of profligacy in front of goal.