UEFA Champions League: The Big Dogs put to test
Barcelona and Juventus lock horns at Camp Nou on Tuesday as they get their Champions League campaigns under way.
The teams have developed somewhat of a rivalry in recent years and they have already met this season in the International Champions Cup, with Barca winning 2-1 thanks to a Neymar double. The pair met in the 2015 Champions League final, which Barca won, but Juve had their revenge when they met at the quarter-final stage last season, triumphing 3-0 on aggregate on their run to the final.
Debuts and Exits
New signing Ousmane Dembele will hope to make his first start for Barca after making his debut from the bench in last weekend's 5-0 win over Espanyol. Rafinha will miss out as he continues to recover from injury as will Arda Turan, but Ivan Rakitic managed to play the full game against Espanyol and should be fit.
Barcelona are without Neymar and have a new boss in Ernesto Valverde at the helm, while Juventus no longer boast the talents of Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves in their squad. Alex Sandro and Sami Khedira, who both featured in the 3-0 win over Barca in Turin, could miss out, meaning that the Juve team that takes to the field on Tuesday will have a distinctly different complexion.
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri confirmed that Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio have been ruled out of Tuesday's Champions League game against Barcelona. Neither midfielder played any part in Saturday's 3-0 Serie A win against Chievo and they will not recover in time for Juve's opening Group D fixture.
Juve could also be without Giorgio Chiellini, with the defender struggling to recover from a calf injury in time for the trip to Camp Nou. The meeting will serve as the first big test for both sides this season, who have easily tallied nine points from their opening three league games and crucially for Barca it represents an opportunity to expunge the memory of their disappointing quarter-final defeat last term.
While they lost Neymar, the Catalan outfit signed Ousmane Dembele and the 20-year-old gave fans a glimpse of what he has in store on Saturday by laying on a goal for Luis Suarez in the demolition of rivals Espanyol. Lionel Messi bagged a hat-trick in that victory and the Argentine comes into the match in tremendous form. With Messi getting into his stride and Suarez returning from injury, Barca are well primed to kick-start their continental campaign, but they will have to pay close attention to Juve's talisman Paulo Dybala, who engineered their demise last season.
These clubs have met nine times previously in European competitions, Barcelona winning on three occasions and Juventus twice with four draws. Juventus lost the first two of their four visits to Camp Nou and drew the next two, including 0-0 in last season’s quarter-finals to advance 3-0 on aggregate.
A decent draw would serve both sides well. Barcelona lost Neymar to PSG and were able to spend only half of his world-record transfer fee on Ousmane Dembele, missing out on other potential replacements such as Philippe Coutinho and Angel di Maria. That increases the pressure on Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez and it is tempting to think that new coach Ernesto Valverde has inherited an ageing squad that is approaching the end of its cycle.
Massimiliano Allegri, on the other hand, has done a good job of regenerating his Juventus resources for the second consecutive summer, and we can see his side leaving Barcelona with a point which could be important when it comes to deciding who will finish top of this group.