There are no lightweight contests in the ICC. But Saturday night will see two heavyweights of European football squaring off at MetLife, as both Juventus and Barcelona start their ICC campaigns.
On that note, let’s just mention Lionel Messi right up front.
Messi casts a big shadow over world football, but in the recent history between these two teams, he’s actually been a footnote rather than a headline, which says everything about the elite defensive qualities Juventus embodied last season.
That most recent defining moment for Juventus vs Barcelona was the Champions League series between the two just a few short months ago — two games that became something of a referendum on attacking flair vs defensive pragmatism. What would happen when the irresistible force of Messi, Nemar and Suarez met the immovable object of Buffon, Chiellini, and Bonucci?
Before the two teams met, Juventus' notoriously tight defense during the competition thus far, was billed as facing the sternest test of its credibility yet, in going up against a Barcelona team that had just made Champions League history by overcoming a 4-0 first leg deficit against Paris St Germain with six second leg goals.
Juventus, though, proved to be a sterner proposition — and when they raced out to a 3-0 win of their own in the first leg, nobody expected their defense to buckle as PSG’s had done. It didn’t, and a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp saw Juventus progress, en route to an appearance in the final. It was likely a painful irony for Barcelona, that when Juve’s defense eventually did crumble in that final, it was to their rivals Real Madrid.
But in the ongoing arms race of top European football, here’s where it gets interesting. One of the anchors of that great Juventus defense from last season, Leonardo Bonucci, has since left the club to join AC Milan’s rebuild, and Dani Alves has gone too…to PSG. It makes sense that PSG should raid Juve’s defense — after all it held Barcelona’s offense scoreless over 180 minutes, including 90 minutes in Barcelona, in roughly the same game state in which PSG had conceded six in the previous round.
So it’s a new look Juventus defense, though in young Daniele Rugani, there’s a potential like-for-like long term replacement of Bonucci. Rugani can play out of the back comfortably, and if the 22 year old fulfills his potential, Juventus could have a first choice at center back for years to come.
It’s somewhat in the DNA of Italian football that defensive prowess comes first, but one of the other signings of this summer, Douglas Costa, suggests a certain directness being added to Juve’s play. Costa likes to take on players (more than any other player in the Bundesliga over the past couple of seasons in fact), and while most eyes will be on Barcelona’s attack on Saturday night, there’ll be plenty of potency for Juventus when they need to take the game to the Catalans.
That Barcelona attack remains unchanged (in fairness, last year’s Champions League exit aside, why would you change that trio?), in fact much of the line up remains unchanged in what’s been a quiet summer so far. Of course, before Dani Alves was at Juventus he made his name with Barcelona, and there was a feeling last year that he’d never been adequately replaced. The signing of Nelson Semedo should help the defense as it takes shape under new coach Ernesto Valverde.
And that’s a big subplot of this game — have Barcelona done enough to reassert themselves at the peak of the European game? And have Juventus changed too much where they’re strong, and not enough where they’re not. Or put another way, has the irresistible force made enough moves, and has the immoveable object acquired enough force. We’ll get our first clues at MetLife this Saturday. Something’s got to give…
Neymar stole the show as a dominant Barcelona recorded a 2-1 win over Juventus at the International Champions Cup on Saturday.
Linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar only needed 45 minutes at MetLife Stadium to once again show what he is capable of.
The Brazil international scored a first-half brace, a neat finish followed by a spectacular individual goal in New Jersey.
Neymar dribbled past five Juve markers before finishing for his second goal as Barca dominated in Ernesto Valverde's first game in charge.
Lionel Messi was also typically impressive, but he had to play second fiddle to Neymar before Barca played a different XI in the second half.
Juve were much-improved after the break and managed to pull a goal back through Giorgio Chiellini.
Valverde named a relatively strong Barcelona XI, which included Neymar, as Luis Suarez and off-season recruit Nelson Semedo started on the bench in their first pre-season game.
In action for the first time since their Champions League final loss, Juve handed debuts to Rodrigo Bentancur, Douglas Costa, Mattia De Sciglio and Wojciech Szczesny, although the latter trio did not start.
Barcelona made an energetic start, pushing Juve back from the outset as Neymar and Messi both squandered chances from free-kicks.
Neymar was lively down the left and he opened the scoring in the 15th minute.
The Brazil star received a pass from Messi before playing a one-two with Paco Alcacer, holding off Stephan Lichtsteiner and finishing into the top corner.
Neymar followed up the team goal with a moment of individual brilliance.
He again received a Messi pass, this time on the left side of the area, before dribbling across the box – leaving five Juve defenders in his wake and placing a finish past Gianluigi Buffon.
Neymar almost completed his hat-trick three minutes before half-time, Buffon getting down low to deny the forward after a delicate chipped pass from Messi, who then went close again with a free-kick.
Valverde named a new XI for the second half, including introducing Luis Suarez and Semedo.
Luis Suarez almost combined with Arda Turan for Barca's third before Juve, energised by the introduction of Paulo Dybala on the hour-mark, pulled a goal back.
Chiellini got between two markers to powerfully head in a Dybala corner at the back post in the 63rd minute.
Denis Suarez missed a great chance to restore Barca's two-goal lead when he blazed over and Carles Alena and Sergi Roberto also went close as the LaLiga giants saw out their win.