After a very successful and impressive return from the international break with last Sunday's 5-0 thrashing of local rivals Espanyol, Barcelona return to action and will make their Champions League season debut against the team that knocked them out of the European Cup last season.
It was Juventus who handed the Blaugrana a painful 3-0 aggregate defeat over two quarter-final legs that exposed all of the defensive problems and lack of attacking creativity that plagued the Catalans in the final year of Luis Enrique's reign. After an embarrassing display in Turin, Barça had a good performance in the second leg but couldn't break down a Juventus defense that seemed unbreakable - until the Final of course.
Things have changed since the quarter-finals. Luis Enrique is gone, Ernesto Valverde is in and things look very good with the new manager. The Blaugrana look stronger defensively and seem to slowly work towards a return to what made them offensively unstoppable during the Pep Guardiola Era: short passing, triangles all over the pitch and constant movement of the attacking pieces to find and create spaces inside tight defenses. Lionel Messi is back to a False Nine/Second Striker role under Valverde and is enjoying a spectacular start to the season, and although that isn't surprising it seems like Messi is loving the comeback to his old role under Pep.
The midfield is also a lot more involved in the early stages of Valverde's reign, with players like Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic starting to regain their form and having major influence in the attacking movements. The full-backs have liberty to go forward but are also aware of their defensive duties, and the team looks more balanced overall. Valverde's coaching prowess is clearly evident at the moment, and there are plenty of encouraging signs in regards to what this team will be capable to do in the upcoming months.
There's also the matter of Ousmane Dembélé, who had a great debut against Espanyol and looks sharp and ready to show his talents and potential for Barça. The team looks very good right now, but they'll face the first true test of the season against Juventus and we'll really get a taste of how good this team actually is in this young season.
The Bianconeri will miss some key players, but they still have Paulo Dybala and a talented supporting cast to bring major problems to the hosts on Tuesday night. This will be tough, but it'll also be fun. After all, the Champions League is back, and European nights are always fun.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Tuesday, September 12, 2017, 8:45pm local time, 7:45pm BST (UK), 2:45pm ET, 11:45am PT (USA), 12:15am IST (India, Wednesday)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia
Television: Fox Sports 2 (USA), BT Sport Extra (UK), SuperSport 6 (Nigeria), TSN4 (Canada), SONY TEN 2 (India)
Online streaming: Fox Sports GO, BT Sport Live Streaming (UK), FuboTV (7-day free trial, click here to sign up)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
Paco Alcácer is out with an illness but Sergi Roberto is back in the squad after recovering from a minor knee problem. Denis Suarez also comes into the squad to boost Valverde's midfield options, but the team shouldn't look too different from the Espanyol win.
In fact, the only possible change is Ousmane Dembélé in place of Gerard Deulofeu. It seems like the young Frenchman will be brought in slowly, but he's made such a great impact in his short spell on Sunday that it makes sense to test him from the start against a stronger opponent. Valverde said in his pre-match press conference that Dembélé is "very close" to starting, so this might be the game where he gets the nod over Deulofeu.
As for the rest of the team, it should be the same starting lineup from Sunday. It's still early days in the season so there's no need to rest anyone, especially when you're facing Juventus. That's especially true when it comes to Andrés Iniesta, who had his minutes carefully managed under Luis Enrique (sometimes to a fault) but has been given plenty of playing time with Valverde. The captain looks fit and sharp, and with his contract situation still up in the air, no one will mess with Iniesta and rest him without necessity.
The back four of Nélson Semedo, Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba looked strong and organized against Espanyol, and they'll need to be at their best again to deal with Dybala, Higuaín, Douglas Costa and others. Marc-André ter Stegen made a couple of wonderful saves on Sunday and was very effective with his passing game, and his performance will also be crucial if Barça want to get a win on Tuesday.
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi; Deulofeu, Suárez
Buffon; Barzagli, Rugani, Benatia, Alex Sandro; Sturaro, Pjanic; Costa, Dybala, Asamoah; Higuaín
Confidence and organization mean a lot in today's football, and Barça seem to have both in abundance at the moment: 2-1 win for the Blaugrana.