BARCELONA, (Reuters) – When Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta was serenaded off the pitch yesterday 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.
Yesterday’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 quarter-final 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.
“I’ve had to suffer a lot against him in the past but now I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy him,” added Valverde, who came from Athletic Bilbao and has managed several Spanish clubs.