If you’re a Barcelona fan, get ready to get nervous. The start of the season (after the Spanish Supercup) has been nice and easy, but now things get tough. This week may define the entire season, and what Barça do in the next two matches will show who they are and how good they can be.
The first challenge is Juventus at the Allianz Stadium in a crucial Champions League match on Wednesday night. Barça need a draw to qualify for the knockout rounds with a game to spare, and a win will put see them through in first place in Group D. But beating Juventus will not be easy for a few reasons.
One: Juve just don’t lose at home. Although they did suffer a defeat to Lazio a few weeks ago, that was the first loss at their stadium for over two years. Maxi Allegri’s side usualy dominates everyone at their ground, which includes a 3-0 win over Luis Enrique’s Barça in last season’s Champions League quarterfinals. The crowd is amazing, the energy of the team naturally goes up and it’s really, really hard to get one point there, let alone three.
Two: Barça really aren’t playing well. After a wonderful performance in the first half against Sevilla two and half weeks ago, the Blaugrana had a terrible showing against Leganés on Saturday. The passing was off, the movement was poor and the pace was terrible. The only good news from that game is that Luis Suárez scored two goals and has a little bit more confidence going to Juventus.
This won’t be easy at all, and if Barça play anywhere near the level they showed at Leganés, this will be a cakewalk for the Bianconeri. Oh, and then there’s Valencia at the weekend. Away from home. Imagine going there after a spanking at Juventus.
So yeah, let’s win or draw at Juventus while playing well.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Wednesday, November 22, 2017, 8:45pm (Barcelona & Nigeria), 7:45pm (UK), 2:45pm ET, 11:45am PT (USA), 1:15 IST (India, Thursday)
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Television: Fox Sports 1 (USA), BT Sport ESPN (UK), SuperSport 6 (Nigeria), TSN4 (Canada), SONY TEN 2 (India)
Online streaming: Fox Sports GO, WatchESPN (USA), BT Sport Live (UK), TSN GO (Canada), FuboTV (7-day free trial, click here to sign up)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
The best possible Barcelona team right now is pretty clear, but since this is Ernesto Valverde away from home we won’t see Paco Alcácer with Lionel Messi and Suárez up front. Valverde loves to play a flat 4-4-2 with four midfielders defending wide and attacking narrow, with the full-backs not pushing forward and the team turning into a slow, controlling mess that just wants to keep the ball and maybe get a goal. It’s not pretty, but it’s worked so far and that is probably what we’ll see against Juve as well.
So who starts in place of Alcácer? With Sergi Roberto and André Gomes injured, the job goes to either Paulinho or Denis Suarez. It looks like Paulinho is the first choice off the bench, so the Brazilian gets the nod. Then again, Valverde could surprise us and go with an attacking setup. Then again, HE WON’T.
Buffon; De Sciglio, Barzagli, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Pjanic, Matuidi; Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuaín
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Paulinho, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez
I’m really sorry, but I just don’t see us winning this one: 2-2 draw.