MADRID - This time the feeling surrounding Barcelona was despair, not anger.
The Catalans are on the verge of Champions League elimination after being thrashed 3-0 by Juventus in Turin on Tuesday, and few believe lightning can strike twice.
Having pulled off the largest comeback in the competition against Paris St. Germain in the last 16, overturning a 4-0 first-leg deficit to progress 6-5 on aggregate, Barcelona must produce a similar result at home against Juventus next week if they are to reach the semi-finals.
Against the Parisians Barcelona always believed they had a chance of going through, with their wealth of experience against PSG’s relative naivety, their top level stars against a young, promising, but erratic crop of players.
But Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus are a different proposition. Wily and hardened, the Old Lady refused to allow Barcelona room to breathe at the Juventus Stadium.
While in La Liga opponents sometimes sit back and watch Barcelona put on a show, partly out of respect and partly out of fear, Juventus displayed neither tendency.
Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic never allowed Andres Iniesta to get comfortable on the ball and Paulo Dybala made Javier Mascherano’s life a nightmare.
Filling in for the suspended Sergio Busquets, Mascherano looked all of his 32 years against the whippet Argentine 23-year-old, who scored two goals in the first 22 minutes to rock the visitors.
Meanwhile at the back Juventus’ old hands Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci refused to give Luis Suarez an inch of space and when the Uruguayan finally did get away from them, he dragged his only chance of the game wide of the far post.
Coach Luis Enrique seemed devastated after the match, with his chances of a final European hurrah before he leaves in the summer left in tatters.
“It doesn’t matter if I consider the result fair or not, the first half was a shipwreck,” he said. “It was almost like the third half of the Paris St. Germain game - which is serious, really serious ... I find it difficult to believe in the comeback today, more difficult than in Paris.”
The fact Barcelona played better against Juventus than they did against PSG is not something they can take comfort from.
The Catalans knew they had a lot of room to improve after that defeat, but here they were not only outplayed and outfought, but also out-thought.
Allegri took advantage of the visitors’ 3-4-3 formation and deployed Juan Cuadrado in an ocean of space on the right wing, with the Colombian setting up Dybala’s opening goal. After Barcelona’s triumphant 6-1 mauling of PSG, fans will still come to Camp Nou in their droves next Wednesday night, believing in their team.
But after their comprehensive destruction in Italy, it seems Barcelona themselves don’t have faith in another “remontada”.
Editing by Mark Heinrich