19:45 (BST); September 12th; Camp Nou (Barcelona, Spain); BT Sport
With bated breath and heightened hopes for clubs around Europe, the Champions League is back and that distinct music returns to our screens, last heard on the June 3rd when the visitors for this game, Juventus, lost the final to Real Madrid.
The Old Lady have picked themselves up since then, but they couldn’t have picked a worse place to start all over as they have to go face-to-face with Barça in the largest stadium in Europe, the Camp Nou.
Barcelona started the season in rather unconvincing fashion, losing their first two competitive games under new manager Ernesto Valverde to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup. They’ve since picked up though and their 5-0 bashing of local rivals Espanyol has gone a long way in proving they’re battle ready for the season.
Their Argentine wizard Lionel Messi is waving the golden wand on his foot and banging the goals in.
Juventus began the season in a similar manner too, losing the Italian Super Cup to Lazio, but have since gone from strength-to-strength, scoring goals but conceding as well, something previously akin to a defence tighter than water.
They have their own Argentinian maestro in Paulo Dybala, who has been responsible for the bulk of their goals so far.
This game has been pencilled down in calendars all over Turin and Catalonia as it’s likely to have a huge bearing on where both teams finish in the table.
Last time out
Barcelona 5-0 Espanyol [La Liga]
The Catalan derby went as expected for Barça with the club doing all the scoring in all lopsided game.
The attacks were fluid, Messi was his usual superhuman self, the midfield kept things ticking nicely while the defence didn’t have much to do as evidenced by Gerard Pique’s goal.
The game revolved solely around Lionel Messi as he scored a hat-trick for the umpteenth time, his genius shining throughout the game.
The match also featured new £97m man, Ousmane Dembele, who made his debut for the club, signing after a protracted wrangle with his former club Borrusia Dortmund. He did well overall and yielded an assist for Luis Suarez to boot.
Juventus 3-0 Chievo [Serie A]
The Turin club, meanwhile, had the good graces to rest their key players for the Champions League game, even if they still fielded a rather strong team lining up in a 4-3-3 formation.
They easily romped to a 3-0 victory against their hapless opponents, with Hetemaj scoring an own goal and Gonzalo Higuain doubling the lead.
Paulo Dybala climbed off the bench to close the scoring after replacing Douglas Costa, showing the enviable strength in depth they possess.
The Blaugranas are expected to line up in their traditional 4-3-3, with ter Stegen in goal, shielded by a back four of Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba. A midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic support an attack featuring Ousmane Dembele, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.
There were fears about Rakitic’s involvement in the tie, but with his full compliments in the derby, he’s expected to start once again and hopefully score like he did in the 2015 Champions League final.
Ousmane Dembele will hope for his first start after debuting from the bench against Espanyol, whilst Arda Turan and Rafinha remain injured.
A return to the 4-2-3-1 is expected for the Old Lady.
Gianluigi Buffon was rested for this game and he will take his place in goal, but Claudio Marchisio and Marko Pjaca are long-term absentees. Juan Cuadrado is suspended from last year’s final, whilst Alex Sandro and Sami Khedira are doubtful as Giorgio Chiellini is expected to miss out with a calf injury.
Therefore, Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Medhi Benatia and Kwadwo Asamoah are expected to form the backline. A double pivot of Blaise Matuidi and Miralem Pjanic will be expected to form the base of everything Juve do to get the ball, recycling it and starting attacks.
Gonzalo Higuain is expected to lead the line, supported by Mario Mandžukić on the left, Douglas Costa on the right and Paulo Dybala behind him.
Key Battle: Lionel Messi vs Paulo Dybala
Both players are Argentinian wizards upon whom the fate of their clubs lie. They’re ably supported by excellent strikers, but once both players are in their elements, stopping them can be a rather tall order.
The last time both clubs faced off in the Champions League quarter-finals, with Juventus eliminating Barcelona, Dybala was the Argentine who influenced the tie as his brace at the Juventus Stadium was key to a 3-0 victory.
The game is starting on a much more even keel now with Barcelona in dangerous form as their mauling of Espanyol showed.
Messi vs Buffon
The duel between both men has lingered for a while as the ageing ‘keeper has incredibly shut out the Argentine attacker in all of their meetings so far, a record few keepers can brag about.
Will the jinx be broken this time with a goal for Messi or will the evergreen Buffon hold out for a while longer?
The midfield battle
The outcome of the match will be decided in the midfield and Juventus have, in Blaise Matuidi and Miralem Pjanic, a unique combination of brains and brawn.
Barcelona, contrastingly, have their tiki-taka style of play with Andres Iniesta, the chief proponent, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic for company.
The Old Lady are likely to exploit the relative lack of pace in the Blaugrana’s midfield with Costa and Mandžukić, who will also be required to tuck in and join the midfield occasionally to prevent the Barça players from imposing their style on the game.
Strength of the bench
Barcelona were supposed to get Philippe Coutinho in the summer to strengthen the squad and give another option, but their inability to do so means all they have on the bench are the likes of Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez and Paulinho, not players that will immediately put fear into the mind of the Juve squad.
Compare this to the likes of Cuadrado, Marchisio and Bernardeschi, three players the Italians can call upon.
The bench might well be needed in the dying embers of the match and it remains to be seen whose will have the better impact.
Losing Neymar will hit any team in the world hard, let alone one used to his moments of magic, but with the purchase of 20-year-old Dembele for a mind-boggling £96m, the Barça hierarchy have tried to do everything they can to get a like-for-like player even if the young Frenchman is rungs below Neymar.
His assist for Suarez and the ensuing hug he received shows the connection is building up slowly but surely and with more time to improve that, using his pace against the Juventus back line, he might just be what they’ve needed all along.
PREDICTION: Barcelona 1-1 Juventus
The match is highly likely to be a tightly fought game and with the form both teams are in, a draw looks the most likely outcome. With the confidence-boosting win they’ve both had over the weekend, the Catalans have only defeated their Turin counterparts once in the Champions League and that was in the 2015 final.
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