On Wednesday 1 19 April 2017 Juventus meet Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Quaterfinal. Below we preview the quarterfinal between the two sides.
Finalists two years ago, the well balanced Italians will be hopeful that they can expose the defensive cracks in the Catalan armour… but preventing the Spanish side from scoring is a whole other issue altogether.
Update: Juventus demolished the much favoured Barcelona 3 – 0 in the first Quarter Final.
How They’re Doing Currently:
Juventus have maintained their lead in Serie A and conquered Napoli in the Coppa Italia semifinals. They remain on course to set new records in consecutive league titles and domestic doubles, but even though coach Massilimiliano Allegri hasn’t changed his stance on the Bianconeri’s focus on their fortunes in Italy, this tie represents an intriguing opportunity. Their 21 match unbeaten home run in European competition, and their strong balance as a side, particularly defensively, suggests it would be premature to think Barcelona will just streamroll past the Italian champions.
Barcelona’s heroics in qualifying for the quarterfinals seems to have galvanised more positive thoughts for their prospects, even if they remain behind rivals Real Madrid in the La Liga table. The Champions League appears their best remaining chance for a trophy. The imperious front 3 is still doing its impressive work casting aside defences with relative ease, with both Suarez and Messi in particular having caught some considerable form in recent matches.
Players to Watch:
If Juventus are to beat Barcelona, then their defensive strengths will have to deliver. The veteran Giorgio Chiellini has a critical responsibility in managing the channel between which Suarez and Messi typically operate; his performance will be crucial to prevent Barcelona from enjoying their usual attacking freedom. Top scorer Gonzalo Higuain remains integral to Juventus’ despite a recent goal drought; while others have picked up some of the goalscoring slack, it’s unlikely Juventus can progress without Higuain leveraging the form he found in his recent Coppa Italia 2nd leg brace vs Napoli. But the key player is again likely to be midfield playmaker Miralem Pjanic; Juventus are fairly good at starving opponents of possession, and Pjanic is often at the centre of these periods. Winning the battle in midfield will go a long way to minimising Barcelona’s goal threat and exposing their inconsistent defence.
Already without the goals they’ve scored, you’d have to isolate the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as key players to a win for Barcelona. If nothing else, their sheer threat against PSG was telling in how they overturned the heavy 1st leg deficit from France. Now that both have found form managing at least 1 goal in their last 3-5 games), then it’s clear Barcelona have the usual prospect of winning as long as they can get the ball to their 2 top scorers. This makes Ivan Rakitic a critical cog in the Barcelona game plan. The Bianconeri have an impressive set of options in midfield and Rakitic’s success at linking defence and attack through those options will be telling in just how successful the Catalans could be.
Allegri may have minds on domestic matters, but it would be a matter of personal pride to exact revenge on Barcelona, not just for 2015’s final, but also successive eliminations with AC Milan in 2012 and 2013. Juventus’ success this season has been predicated on them being hard to beat, and that makes for an intriguing encounter against the Catalan attack. The Italian side are also far more balanced across its whole lineup.
But – once again, there’s the matter of the prolific Barcelona front 3 to consider. And with Suarez and Messi in form, and Neymar not far behind, for all the defensive prowess Juventus possess, they may find themselves just overwhelmed with attacking brilliance.Barcelona will win the match, but will need another heroic performance to overcome the 3 – 0 deficit. Juventus should progress to the semi finals on aggregate.
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*League placings correct at time of publishing.