It turned out there was only one Champions League quarterfinal first leg played Tuesday following the postponement of Borussia Dortmund’s game against Monaco after an explosive device struck the German team’s bus on the way to the stadium.
In the other series, Juventus began to exact some revenge for the 2015 Champions League final by beating Barcelona 3-0 in Turin, as Paulo Dybala scored twice early, and Giorgio Chiellini added a second-half header to ramp up the pressure on Lionel Messi & Co.
Here are three thoughts from a mixed night of European football, when plenty of the focus was away from the field:
No other decision but to postpone Dortmund match after bus scare
German police confirmed that there were three explosions near the Borussia Dortmund team bus as it left the hotel to make its way to the stadium for the Champions League quarterfinal tie against Monaco. Dortmund’s Spanish defender Marc Bartra, who made friends last week by seeking out the lone Dortmund fan sitting in a stand full of rival Schalke fans in the recent derby, was injured and taken to hospital. “We wish you a speedy recovery, Marc!” posted the club’s official Twitter feed. Die Welt newspaper reported that Dortmund’s team bus is fitted with strong safety glass, which may likely have prevented more serious injuries.
UEFA acted quickly in deciding to postpone the match. It was certainly the right decision. Dortmund’s PA announcer, Nobby Dickel, a legend in that part of Germany, promised that there was no threat to people inside the stadium, and Monaco fans immediately shared their support by chanting, “Dortmund, Dortmund,” even after the postponement.
As pictures of the team bus, with a blown-out window, circulated on social media, you wondered about the mindset of the players involved in this eagerly awaited clash between two of the most talented–and attacking–sides in European football. UEFA officials met with local authorities and representatives from both sides and agreed to play the tie Wednesday with the earlier kick-off time of 18:45 local time. No one knows how the players will respond to a scare like this: for those who felt that the rearrangement was hasty, it was taken in conjunction with the clubs.
“The team is in shock,” said Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke in a statement. “We must get through this but it will not be easy for the players. Borussia Dortmund is especially strong in extreme situations. Everyone will come even closer together and I’m sure the team will feel this.”
Sometimes in the dark moments, football has the power to bring out the best in people. Dortmund has shown itself to be a club who puts fans first. It kept supporters informed as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of false speculation and urged its own supporters to put up Monaco fans for the night using the hashtag #bedforawayfans. Let’s hope Bartra is O.K., the game goes ahead Wednesday and both teams can play at their full potential. All of Europe will be watching, and supporting.
Dybala inspires Juventus with double
Within six minutes of kickoff, you felt this could be a long night for Barcelona. Gonzalo Higuain, bought with the money Juventus earned from the sale of Paul Pogba as the club decided to go all-in for the Champions League, had a clear header from eight yards out just two minutes in which he directed straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Juventus started off pressing high, just as Paris Saint-Germain did in its 4-0 first leg win in the last round, and Barcelona looked panicked. A few minutes later, Paulo Dybala had broken the deadlock.
Juventus clearly targeted the flanks to attack Barcelona: Juan Cuadrado, on the right, gave Jeremy Mathieu a torrid first half–he was replaced at halftime–and had plenty of time to set up Dybala, 12 yards out but with time and space to turn a curl a shot into Ter Stegen’s far corner. It was a superb opener but was not a surprise. Dybala is Messi’s international teammate for Argentina (both men, bizarrely, were sent off on their international debuts) but this was the first time he has faced Messi. In truth, he eclipsed him.
If Dybala represents the future of Juventus, captain Gigi Buffon, 39 years old and somehow never a winner of this competition (twice a beaten finalist), represents the past–and the present. He came up big on 21 minutes, when he somehow touched Andres Iniesta’s shot, from Lionel Messi’s defense-splitting pass, around the post. Within 90 seconds, Dybala had doubled the lead: Mario Mandzukic galloped down the left flank and cut the ball back to the edge of the area. Dybala was unmarked and, first time, drilled a superb effort inside the near post. Juventus fans erupted: club president Andrea Agnelli joyfully hugged vice-chairman and former Juve hero Pavel Nedved in the stands.
Higuain was not so dead-eyed. Twice in the second half, Ter Stegen denied him, the second time from a one-on-one in which the Argentine seemed to delay his shot. It didn’t matter: one minute later, Giorgio Chiellini, who missed the 2015 final, headed home Miralem Pjanic’s corner in off the post to make it 3-0.
Juventus saw out the game, even though Barcelona created a few chances thereafter. There were only two Juventus players who started the 2015 final against Barcelona in this lineup. The different players ensured a very different result.
Is another comeback beyond this Barcelona?
If Luis Enrique is going to leave the club this summer on a high, he is going to do it the hard way. Barcelona’s league defeat to Malaga at the weekend left it three points behind Real Madrid in La Liga, and though Barcelona recovered from a 4-0 first-leg deficit to beat PSG in the last round, this Juventus side is a far tougher nut to crack. The Barcelona coach as good as admitted he’d got his selection wrong with a three-man defense–which worked in overturning the PSG result–by switching to a four-man defense in the second half.
Only the most biased of Barcelona fans could say it deserved more from this performance; although Lionel Messi did have the ball in the net soon after Dybala’s second goal, but it was disallowed for a tug on Sami Khedira. There were a few flashes of attacking defiance: Luis Suarez set up Iniesta who blazed over the top, and Chiellini dived in with a sensational block to prevent Messi from shooting. Suarez had one second-half effort that went narrowly wide while there were shouts for a penalty after a Neymar shot that struck Chiellini’s arm, though the ball came off the defender's face first.
Barcelona missed the influence of Sergio Busquets in midfield, but that was not the only reason for this result. The side is in need of a refresh: the new coach will have to deal with issues across the team. Barcelona has overcome all the odds to make it to this stage. It would be even more miraculous if it could overturn this result at Camp Nou, against a Juventus side that’s built to go all the way in this competition.
Barcelona can’t do it again… can it?