Messi fi­nally con­quers Buf­fon as Barcelona crush Juve 3-0

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When Barcelona’s An­dres Ini­esta was ser­e­naded off the pitch on Tues­day fol­low­ing a vin­tage dis­play in a 3-0 win over Juventus that was only ri­valled by Lionel Messi, it was easy to for­get the gloom that had gripped the Nou Camp two weeks ago.

The club had been left red-faced by the fail­ure to sign top tar­gets Philippe Coutinho and An­gel Di Maria when the trans­fer win­dow shut and the squad looked weak­ened fol­low­ing the world record depar­ture of Ney­mar to Paris St Ger­main.

A re­sound­ing 5-1 ag­gre­gate Span­ish Su­per Cup de­feat by arch ri­vals Real Madrid added to the sense of de­spon­dency. Tues­day’s stun­ning open­ing Group D dis­play against last sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal­ists, how­ever, showed that Barca are still in safe hands as long as the old guard of Messi and Ini­esta re­main at the club and are fit and fir­ing.

Barca cap­tain Ini­esta, 33, strug­gled for large parts of last sea­son as in­juries took their toll but he rolled back the years against Juve with a seam­less dis­play that re­called the days when Pep Guardi­ola was man­ager and Barca dom­i­nated in mid­field.

The vet­eran ran the usu­ally solid Ital­ian cham­pi­ons ragged through­out the game and capped the dis­play with a pin­point pass to Messi for the Ar­gen­tine’s sec­ond goal, Barca’s third, earn­ing him a warm re­cep­tion when he was sub­sti­tuted late on.

“It’s im­por­tant to play a lot of min­utes but the key is look­ing af­ter your­self prop­erly,” said Ini­esta, who is out of con­tract at the end of the sea­son. “When the team func­tions well we all play bet­ter. We strug­gled a bit at first as is nor­mal in Euro­pean games but we just needed a bit of pa­tience and then we be­gan to con­trol the game.”

The Juve clash, a re­peat of last sea­son’s quar­ter­fi­nal tie won by the Ital­ians and the 2015 Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in which Barca tri­umphed, was one of the most ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated fix­tures in Europe this week. But the match be­gan in a sub­dued at­mos­phere, while out­side the Nou Camp op­po­nents of the board cam­paigned for a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in pres­i­dent Josep Maria Bar­tomeu.

Once Ini­esta and Messi had fin­ished out­class­ing Juventus, how­ever, there was a party mood inside the ground, with lit­tle signs of any re­bel­lion. Ini­esta’s dis­play was only up­staged by Messi, who ended his hoodoo against Juve keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon with lethal strikes either side of half­time, scor­ing for the sev­enth time in three games.

He also had a shot cleared off the line which was turned in by Ivan Rakitic for the sec­ond goal and ham­mered the post in the sec­ond half. He was a con­stant threat and at times freely danced past the vis­it­ing de­fence, tor­tur­ing a help­less Juve rear­guard.

“I have the feel­ing that when­ever Leo picks the ball up some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen, any­thing can hap­pen, and it’s al­ways good for us,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde. “Leo scored an ex­tra­or­di­nary goal and blew the game open. He is one of the best play­ers in the his­tory of the game. — Reuters

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