Football Features

“A fearless young genius” – Five things learned as Barcelona evolve and dominate 10-man Juventus

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:29, 28 October 2020 | Updated: 9:42, 30 March 2021

In an incredible night of Champions League football, Barcelona dominated Juventus to pick up a big win.

The Blaugrana move top of the group with two wins from two and the nature of this victory, coming after a Clásico defeat but also the resignation of the intensely unpopular president Josep Bartomeu, will lift Ronald Koeman’s side. What did we learn?

1. Dembélé rising

Ousmane Dembélé was a prospect on the same level as Kylian Mbappé back in 2017 when Barcelona signed him. However injuries have destroyed his time in Catalunya, and so he hasn’t really developed from the kid he was when he first joined the club.

But he’s finally fit again, and tonight against Juve showed exactly what he is capable of. The Frenchman tormented Juve, causing them problems almost every time he had the ball at his feet. He would drive at them, take defenders on and link with team-mates.

And of course, he scored the opening goal of the game. Picking the ball up wide he drove at the defence, checked onto his right and smashed it goalward. Now it took a big deflection, for sure, but Barcelona have at times been reticent to actually shoot – Dembélé showed the value of sometimes just having a go. He continued to attack Juve after that, almost adding a second late in the first period.

He was subbed off just after the hour mark for Ansu Fati, but unlike previous times he left with his head held high. If the Frenchman can stay fit then this could be the season that we finally see the best of Ousmane Dembélé.

2. AlVARo Morata’s cursed hat-trick

Alvaro Morata scored a hat-trick against Barcelona. Three finishes, all like daggers into the Blaugrana. Well, they would have been if any of them had counted. The Spaniard wheeled away three times only to three times be pulled back by the cruel clarification of VAR.

Quite incredibly, all three of Morata’s goals were offside. The first two goals saw him get caught out clean by Barcelona’s offside trap as Ronald Araujo and Clement Lenglet stepped up in unison; the first even saw him handle the ball en route to bundling it home. The third goal was one of those precision offside calls where you understand why it was ruled out even though it really is absurd.

Ultimately you do have to feel for Morata. He worked relentlessly and really tried to put a hurt on Barcelona, he was just repeatedly caught out by Barcelona’s defensive structure and the cruel, unfeeling gaze of VAR.

3. Pjanic is the perfect midfield compliment

For all the hype of pairing Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong, the sad reality is that the two players struggle to play together because both need to be the primary playmaker. When they play together Frenkie is forced into a role that doesn’t suit him and Busquets struggles to handle counter-attacks.

Enter Miralem Pjanic.

Signed for all the wrong reasons this summer (his signing was motivated by Financial Fair Play concerns) he is nevertheless kind of perfect to play alongside Frenkie de Jong at the heart of midfield. He is a capable passer, but unlike De Jong he doesn’t have to be the hub of everything to work his magic. Moreover he is a very solid defender, with enough pace and sharp enough instincts to cover the holes that appear in the Barcelona defence from time to time (unlike Busquets who ends up causing said holes).

Against his old side Juve the Bosnian was brilliant. After a couple of nervy passes early on he settled down and was a consistent thorn in their side defensively, covering masses of ground, and whenever he had the ball at his feet he moved it on quickly and left the more extravagant stuff to Frenkie de Jong or Sergio Busquets (who played next to him second-half). Pjanic may not be a midfield superstar, but he is exactly the kind of midfield compliment the Blaugrana need.

4. Pirlo learning the hard way

Andrea Pirlo is a Juventus legend. There can be no doubt about this. Giving him the coaching job at Juventus was a smart PR move and whilst it’s always nice to see young coaches get a chance, Pirlo has literally 0 experience and it kind of really showed today.

Pirlo set Juve up in a bright enough shape but beyond pressing Barcelona high for about half an hour, the side had no unifying idea. There were players out there in positions, but no patterns of play, no labelled playmakers. Were they using Cuadrado’s crossing to Morata? Not consistently. How about Kulusevski’s dribbling? Well sometimes.

Juve just seemed to be making it up as they went. And that is not good enough at the highest level of the game. Juventus were just nowhere near Barcelona today even before the red card reduced them to 10 men. Andrea Pirlo is learning the hard way that being a football manager takes a lot more than great hair and a very nice beard.

5. Pedri the avatar of Koeman’s Barcelona

Pedri was awful in El Clásico. Truly, the 17-year-old had looked bright so far this season but he really was poor against Real Madrid. So imagine how surprised everyone was when he got the start against Juventus. It was a bold selection from Ronald Koeman but one that showed however brusque and odd he may appear to be, he knows how to look after young players.

Instead of leaving Pedri to stew over his poor display, he got the kid focused on playing straight away in another massive game. And Pedri responded too, producing a phenomenal performance in Turin.

The youngster has been labelled the “new Iniesta” and whilst that seems a bit much, on the evidence of tonight you can at least see where they’re coming from as the youngster began taunting Juve players with his inventive and daring dribbles, driving the ball up the field.

Pedri is a fearless young genius. All told he completed 4/5 dribbles. And his comfort dribbling the ball was emblematic of Barcelona’s growing confidence and swagger. Dembélé completed 5/8 and Messi completed 6/7 and the Blaugrana completed 20 in total.

That comfort with the ball at their feet sums up the evolution of Koeman’s Barcelona from a middling team into one that looks genuinely dangerous. Obviously they are a side comfortable moving the ball around in terms of passing, but now they are a side that is more than happy to take opponents on with dribbling – and that is going to be huge for their ability to break opponents down.

All they need to do is find their shooting boots because they fashioned far too many fantastic chances to have only scored twice (from a deflection and a penalty). But just as Pedri showed, Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona are a young side who will not be cowed by defeat and will always rise to whatever challenge is presented them.