MATCH REPORT: FC Barcelona opens Valverde era with impressive 2–1 win over Juventus

MATCH REPORT: FC Barcelona opens Valverde era with impressive 2–1 win over Juventus

Neymar scored twice in the first half and was named Man of the Match as Barça dominated Juventus from start to finish in a game that was much closer on the scoreboard than on the field

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY — Neymar Jr notched two impeccable first half goals as FC Barcelona rolled past the Italian champions Juventus, 2–1, before 82,104 fans at a sold-out MetLife Stadium. The 25-year-old Brazilian was named Man of the Match.

Giorgio Chiellini pulled one back for Juventus in the 61st minute.

It was a game of firsts for the Catalans, who unveiled a new shirt design, a new sponsor, Rakuten, and a new manager, Ernesto Valverde. The sheer domination exhibited by the Blaugranes from start to finish was highlighted by stellar first-half play not just by Neymar, but also by the Argentinian virtuoso, Lionel Messi. The duo joined forces early and often in putting La Vecchia Signora back on its heels in the opening minutes, and keeping it there till the intermission. Messi and Neymar teamed up on three early rushes culminating in one stray pass from Neymar to Messi, a Neymar shot kicked away by the ageless goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, and a Messi free-kick from outside the penalty area that fell innocuously by the wayside.

The third member of the much-feared trident, Luis Suárez, did not start, but came on at the start of the second half as his linemates hung up their boots for the evening. Valverde, managing his first game since signing with Barça this summer, preferred to limit his players’ minutes and, taking advantage of the liberal substitution rules teams are afforded in friendlies, made sure his big guns were not over-exerted on a hot and humid evening in North Jersey.

Neymar’s first goal came at the 15-minute mark, on an assist from Paco Alcácer, after he weaved through the Juve defense and fired a close-range shot past Buffon and into the upper right corner. The goal—Barça’s first of the preseason—was impressive, and the celebration was downright emphatic. Neymar bolted straight for the touch line and leapt into the air, pumping his fist with extra gusto.

Eleven minutes later, in the 26th, Neymar’s second was even better. He shed five defenders in the Juve area, keeping his balance as if performing in a high-wire circus act, before finally finding enough time to pull the trigger. This time Neymar went low and beat Buffon to give Barça a 2–0 lead.

Before coming out of the game, both Neymar and Messi had mouth-watering chances to extend Barça’s lead. In the 42nd, Neymar had his hat trick thwarted by Buffon right on the doorstep. And two minutes after that, Messi’s 30-yard free kick was tipped over the bar by Buffon.

Although the second half was largely void of any truly menacing scoring chances, as the final minutes dripped away, the crowd seemed to grow in its anticipation of one final chance to celebrate a goal. Barça pushed hard to regain a two-goal edge. Denis Suárez was stoned from the doorstep in the 75th. Carles Aleñá fired just wide of the post in the 80th. And Sergi Roberto mis-hit a wide-open shot from point-blank range in the 88th.

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