After a tumultuous summer with the loss of Neymar, failure to sign Philippe Coutinho and losing to arch-rivals Real Madrid in the Supercopa, Barcelona have made a perfect start to La Liga with three wins out of three, nine goals scored and zero conceded.
New right-back Nelson Semedo looks have the ability and style to replace Dani Alves, whilst star signing Ousmane Dembele already has his first assists, despite playing only twenty minutes of football.
Irrespective of the off-field drama surrounding the Catalan giants, Barcelona still arguably have the best first XI in world football with their creative and high-pressing style returning.
Juventus have made an almost identical start to the season as Barcelona. They lost the curtain-raiser in the Italian Supercoppa to Lazio, but have since won all three of their Serie A games.
The Old Lady have scored 10 league goals, conceding two, and look better than ever. It will be an intriguing battle between two of Europe’s greatest sides at the Camp Nou.
Here are the three key battles that could decide the game.
Ousmane Dembele vs Stephan Lichtsteiner
The Frenchman made an excellent start to life at his new club on Saturday, coming on as a sub to set up the fifth and final goal for Luis Suarez to score.
Having joined from Borussia Dortmund for over £97m in the summer to replace Brazilian superstar Neymar, a lot is expected of the young winger. Whilst its early days, Dembele is one of the most exciting players in world football, with his ambidextrous style of play, and supreme creativity.
The former Rennes wide man created 18 goals for Dortmund last year and is expected to make his full debut tonight.
Stephan Lichtsteiner, meanwhile, is back as the number one choice for the right-back slot at Juventus, given the departure of Dani Alves in the summer.
Lichtsteiner is a seasoned professional who will try to use his experience to gain the advantage over the youth of Dembele. The Swiss international is still energetic but may be forced to defend more than usual if the Barcelona forward can pin him back.
Whilst Lichtsteiner boasts experience over Dembele’s youthful naivety, the Frenchman is searingly quick and could give the Swiss a torrid time on the flank should he get the better of him in the game’s opening exchanges.
Lionel Messi vs Daniele Rugani
The Argentine superstar would always be included in this list. He is so often the difference maker for Barcelona and has started yet another season on fire. His hat trick against city rivals Espanyol at the weekend was his 42nd for the club and, rather surprisingly, his first for Barcelona in 47 league games.
It was his second longest run without a league hat-trick for the Catalan giants.
With Messi bang in form, and retiring to his false nine/number ten role, Rugani will have a monumental task of trying to stop the Argentine, (along with the rest of the Juventus side). With Giorgio Chiellini injured, Rugani is expected to partner Andrea Barzagli at the back.
Juventus have lost Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan and with Chiellini unavailable, the Juventus backline isn’t as strong as it was when the team from Turin beat Barcelona 3-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of this competition last season.
Messi found a way through the impenetrable BBC backline in the two-legged tie last season, with Gianluigi Buffon key in ensuring the Old Lady kept a clean sheet in both games. With two of the fabled three centre-backs missing for the repeat, Messi should find it a lot easier to worm his way to goal.
Paulo Dybala vs Samuel Umtiti
The heir to Messi’s throne?
Juve’s very own Argentine superstar is getting better and better and has similarly made a wonderful start to the season, with five goals in only three Serie A appearances. There are a lot of stylistic similarities between Messi and Dybala, particularly regarding their wonderful ball manipulation when dribbling.
Dybala has averaged 4.3 dribbles per game in Serie A this season and loves to cut in onto his left from the right-hand side. He will often be cutting in towards French central defender Samuel Umtiti.
The cultured centre-back is quickly becoming an integral part of the Barcelona side, who had long been searching for a Carles Puyol replacement.
Umtiti hasn’t had many defensive actions to complete in La Liga so far this season, averaging only 0.7 tackles per game. The best defenders don’t have to have high defensive actions due to their reading the game and subsequent removal of danger before it arises.
However, Dybala is a world-class attacker who will keep Umtiti and the rest of the Barcelona side on their toes.
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