Barcelona's Champions League aspirations are once again in serious trouble after a 3-0 defeat to Juventus in their quarter-final first leg on Tuesday night at the Juventus Stadium in Turin.
The reigning Serie A champions put on a masterclass of football from back to front and a first-half brace from Paulo Dybala and a second-half header from Giorgio Chiellini have the Italians poised to clinch a semi-final berth when the two teams meet in the return leg on April 19.
Nothing went right for Barcelona and unlike the previous round versus PSG in which Barcelona came back from a 4-0 deficit, over-turning a 3-0 result against a team that have conceded just two goals in the entire tournament seems a task too tall for Luis Enrique's men.
Juventus' pace and Dybala's finishing overwhelmed the Catalonians in the first half, while the steady presence of legendary goalkeeper Gigi Buffon and defender Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro in defence was the bedrock for yet another clean sheet for Juve boss Max Allegri.
As for Barcelona, the defeat marks a second consecutive match in which they failed to score, looking largely bereft of ideas in attack, while unsure and slow in defence.
Luis Enrique raised a few eyebrows with his starting XI, mainly due to the inclusion of Jeremy Mathieu, who was coming off a dreadful start over the weekend at Malaga. With the suspended Sergio Busquets unavailable, the Asturian boss opted to push Javier Mascherano into midfield, thus paving the way for the Frenchman to start. Otherwise, it was the usual cast of characters for the Catalonians in a 3-4-3 formation.
Juventus had the brighter start of the two and Gonzalo Higuain was presented with a golden opportunity to put Juventus up early, but his header off a free kick was sent directly into the hands of Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The Italians continued on and minutes later they carved open the Barcelona defence for the game's first goal. Juan Cuadrado received a ball down the left from Higuain and was afforded too much space by Mathieu, allowing the Colombian to calmly slip a pass into Dybala, who swept in a shot past Ter Stegen to hand Juve a 1-0 lead.
With the goal, Juventus were happy to sit back and allow Barcelona to keep possession and look to break on the counter. Barcelona needed Messi to take control and if not for a sensational save from legendary Juventus goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, Andres Iniesta would have had the equaliser after a surgically played ball in from La Pulga.
Just when Barcelona were gathering momentum, Juventus struck again and it was Dybala doing the damage for a second time with a curling left-footed bullet off a cut-back pass from Mario Mandzukic. In the blink of an eye Barcelona had gone from a possible 1-1 scoreline to 2-0 down.
Barcelona were harmless in possession. Juventus' strong resistance reduced Luis Enrique's men to simply passing the ball around, with the occasional probing ball turned away. Neymar was given zero space by Brazilian countryman Dani Alves, who did not shy away from being physical with his former club teammates.
Meanwhile Juve's pace created headaches for the Barcelona defence. Cuadrado was having his way on the right flank against Mathieu and that forced a rethink from Luis Enrique to start the second half. For the second match in a row, the Frenchman was hauled off at half-time, and replaced by Andre Gomes signaling the switch to a 4-3-3. Umtiti moved to left-back, while Mascherano dropped into the centre-back position and Sergi Roberto at right-back.
The formation switch gave Barcelona stability at first and they look a improved side, evidenced by a pair of chances to start the second-half after just a single look at goal in the first 45 minutes.
But Juve adjusted and with some better finishing from Higuain it would have been three to the hosts. The Argentine's profligacy was quickly forgotten though when Chiellini, towering over the shorter Mascherano, placed a perfect header across goal and into the net to increase the Juventus lead to 3-0.
The third goal devastated Barcelona. Heads dropped, hands covered faces and the fire that was there at the start of the half was barely a flicker. They needed something to get back into the match and Luis Suarez almost provided that off a pass from Messi, but the Uruguayan's shot rolled just wide of the far post.
Desperate for a goal in the final quarter-hour, Luis Enrique committed more numbers forward, but there was no space to be had between the Juventus defence and midfield. Any Barcelona chance came from distance with most being sent well over Buffon's crossbar, summing up Barcelona's miserable night.
Barcelona return to action on Saturday with a home league contest versus Real Sociedad.
3.- Juventus: Buffon, Alves, Bonucci, Chiellini, Alex Sandro, Khedira, Pjanic (Barzagli, min. 89), Cuadrado (Lemina, min. 73), Mandzukic, Dybala (Rincon, min. 81), Higuain.
0.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Umtiti, Pique, Mathieu (Andre Gomes, min. 46); Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Rakitic, Iniesta; Neymar, Messi, Suarez.
Goals: 1-0, min. 7: Dybala; 2-0, min. 22: Dybala; 3-0, min. 55: Chiellini
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland). Yellow Cards: Dani Alves (Min. 28) for Juventus, Mandzukic (Min. 63) for Juventus, Khedira (Min. 74) for Juventus, Umtiti (Min. 91) for Barcelona
Red cards: None