Messi benched, Barca advance to last 16

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Barcelona's Lionel Messi
  • Post published:November 23, 2017

Barcelona benched Lionel Messi, but sealed their place in the last 16 of the Champions League regardless, with a 0-0 draw at Juventus.

The La Liga leaders were largely untroubled by last season’s beaten finalists at the Allianz Stadium as they claimed a result that guarantees they go through to the knockout phase as winners of Group D.

Head coach Ernesto Valverde sprung a shock before the match by naming Messi among the substitutes, with Paulinho selected in the number 10 role in a robust-looking system.

Barca official Guillermo Amor explained pre-match that Messi was simply being rested before the weekend clash with La Liga’s second-placed side Valencia, and his absence did little to upset Barca’s rhythm as they controlled the game for long spells in Turin, albeit without troubling Gianluigi Buffon too often.

Messi came on in the second half to try and unlock a Juve defence that was without the injured Giorgio Chiellini, but there was no way through against the Serie A champions, who are a point above third-place Sporting CP in the group ahead of the final match-day.

For Barca, attention can now turn to the top-of-the-table clash at Mestalla on Sunday, with their knockout spot secure.

Douglas Costa shot straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen from inside the penalty area after only two minutes, but Barcelona were largely in control of the first half-hour, the midfield quartet of Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Paulinho dictating the play well.

It was Rakitic who came closest to a first-half breakthrough, sending a deep free kick off the right-hand post, before Paulinho failed to turn the rebound on target.

Barca had shouts for a penalty in the 30th minute when Paulinho went over a challenge from Miralem Pjanic, but the referee showed a deserved yellow card to the Brazilian for a fairly blatant dive.

Paulo Dybala had struggled to get involved in the first 45 minutes, but he came close to giving Juve the lead just before the break, collecting Alex Sandro’s pass on the break before surging into the box and firing narrowly over the crossbar.

Barca resumed their control of proceedings after the break, with Luis Suarez going close with a free kick, but Valverde nonetheless introduced Messi for Gerard Deulofeu in the 55th minute.

Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain lashed half-chances wide, but Barca’s control of possession was almost unchallenged, with Juve apparently content to sit deep and hold on for the draw.

Messi almost provided the killer pass to give Barca the breakthrough, with Juan Cuadrado messing up his attempt to head the Argentine’s long pass back to Buffon, but Lucas Digne failed to capitalise on the opportunity.

Juve showed more attacking endeavour in the closing stages, and Ter Stegen made a fine low save to deny Dybala in stoppage time, but the draw means Massimiliano Allegri’s side must beat Olympiacos on December 5 to ensure they stay above Sporting and reach the last 16.

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