We’ve been here before. Or of course this writer has. Laying thick with the plaudits over a team that has swatted away Barcelona in the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie, only to have any excitement devastatingly crushed in the second.
Paris St Germain spectacularly fell in the Nou Camp after racking up a 4-0 win in the first leg of their second round tie and Barcelona must now do the same to Juventus having been defeated 3-0 in Tuesday’s first leg of the quarter final tie.
An 8th Champions League semi-final in 10 years awaits them if their illustrious attack clicks in the dazzling way everybody knows it can, but it would only again serve to belie a grossly imbalanced team that has the quality of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez to mask a slipshod defence that has shown it should not be competing in the latter stages of elite European competition.
One suspects that Juventus, with the imposing back 3 of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini protecting the imperious Gianluigi Buffon, still capable, at the age of 39, of making the kind of instinctive save he made to deny Andres Iniesta a crucial away goal after he was released by Messi with the score at 1-0, will not surrender as softly as PSG.
The Old Lady will be solid, comfortable in the flexible 3-5-2 shape constructed by Antonio Conte and honed by Massimiliano Allegri and with Gonzalo Higuain, Juan Cuadrado and Paulo Dybala, scorer of two well-taken goals on Tuesday night, able to pack the kind of potent punch on the counter that can gobble up the kind of chance Edinson Cavani passed up during PSG’s sensational defeat in Catalonia.
Allegri’s team offered up revenge for the 3-1 defeat suffered at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League final in 2015, a victory for a team that has grown and improved while the other has stagnated and become over-reliant on its stars.
There were only 2 survivors, Buffon and Bonucci, from that loss in Berlin taking the field on Tuesday while Barcelona had 8, with Jordi Alba’s energy at left-back and the control of Sergio Busquets in midfield sorely missed.
Allegri has carefully managed the transition that has involved the exits of Carlos Tevez, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo, recruiting astutely with the likes of Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira and Cuadrado.
In contrast Barcelona’s signings have been odd, with Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes struggling to settle in following their moves from Valencia, Samuel Umtiti prone to errors at the back and Arda Turan simply not fitting into their style.
Success has been sustained in Turin with a 6th Serie A title in a row likely to arrive at the end of the season as Juventus lead Roma by 6 points and a final with Lazio offering Allegri’s team the chance to win a third Coppa Italia in a row.
Meanwhile domestically a Barcelona often too over-dependable on Messi are doing their best to concede a La Liga title to a plodding Real Madrid.
Juventus can be reliant on Higuain, with 21 goals to his name the Argentinean has done his best to repay the eye-watering £76 million fee that was lavished to pull him away from Napoli, with Dybala the only other squad member to reach double figures for the campaign.
Instead their title charge has been built on a perfect home record and a miserly defence that has kept 15 clean sheets in Serie A and has shipped just 20 goals in 31 games.
They have conceded just twice so far in this season’s Champions League with Khedira and Pjanic offering an impregnable midfield screen to a back-line that can shift effortlessly, with the help of the versatility of Alex Sandro, Dani Alves and Cuadrado, between a back-four and back-three.
Sandro, a £22 million signing from Porto in 2015, started at left-back against Barcelona and excelled, while Dani Alves and Cuadrado’s pace gave Jeremy Mathieu, targeted in the move that led to Dybala’s first, a torrid time on the right.
Sandro was the stand-out talent however, a player now widely-likened to Roberto Carlos and able to shoot up and down the wing, ensuring that the January exit of Patrice Evra to Marseille has not been noticed.
The Brazilian is Juventus’s highest-rated player this season and has chipped in with 2 goals and 4 assists, the money spent on luring him away from Portugal now looking astute in the same vein as the investments of Vidal, Alvaro Morata, Pogba who were all sold on to profit.
Dybala, whose two goals and brilliant all-round contribution to the win over Barcelona will convince the continent to take notice of the 23-year-old’s considerable talent, has 39 goals from 81 games in his 2 seasons in Turin and it is a coup that the Bianconeri, who were reminded last summer of their inability to compete financially with the likes of Manchester United, have managed to tie the nimble Uruguayan striker down to a new contract until 2022, worth £135,000 per week.
The Old Lady will be planning for a future with Dybala coming of age in support of Mario Mandzukic and Higuain, who are both entering their 30s. Juventus will be aware however that every player has a price, including the manager Allegri who finds himself linked with the succession of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, and that they may face another rebuilding job after another summer of transition.
The months before that could yet bring a Champions League title, a trophy they have not won since 1996, to top off an historic treble and though there is still a long way to go, the groundwork for the semi-final seems secure. Barcelona in the Nou Camp still presents a mountain to climb, but they are far better prepared to climb it than PSG were.