The UEFA Champions League returns to action this week for the start of the quarter-final stage, and after their historical comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona must beat Italian champions Juventus over two legs to reach the semi-final.
The first leg takes place at Juventus Stadium, where the Old Lady only once lost since moving from Delle Alpi, and even though the Blaugrana have become major favorites thanks to their heroics in the Round of 16, they'll have to play very well in order to knock out Juve.
Let's take a look at how both sides will probably line up on Tuesday:
For the last few months, Next World's Greatest Manager Massimiliano Allegri has discovered a system that allowed him to play attacking football with four forwards IN ITALY and escape criticism. You aren't supposed to play attacking football with four forwards in Italy and escape criticism, but Allegri is so good he found a way to remain defensively sound and still dominate and score loads of goals against every team they faced since the 4-2-3-1 formation was implemented.
The key? The wings: Dani Alves and Juan Cuadrado on the right, Alex Sandro and Mario Mandzukic on the left. These four players are so dynamic that they allowed Allegri to unleash Paulo Dybala into the central areas and let him run riot on the opposing defenses without having to worry about also having to move out wide, which was a problem last season.
With Leonardo Bonucci and Georgio Chiellini capable of defending everything all the time, as well as having Claudio Marchisio and Miralem Pjanic hold their positions a little bit more, Allegri is able to send six players forward without worrying about the defense, and Juventus' "front six" of Alves, Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic, Sandro and Higuaín will be more than a handful for Barça on Tuesday.
This is not your quintessential Italian team: Juventus will run, they'll attack, they'll probably score goals, and they'll be a REALLY tough team to beat at home.
Predicted XI: Buffon | D.Alves, Bonucci, Chiellini, A.Sandro | Marchisio, Pjanic | Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic | Higuaín
It's amazing how only one player can absolutely destroy an entire prediction, but that's what happened when Sergio Busquets got suspended in the second leg against PSG and is unable to face Juve on Tuesday. Without the world's best holding midfielder, Barça's new formation, the 3-3-1-3, becomes almost impossible to figure out, but we have a few hints from the few games in which the new system has been used.
First, we know that Javier Mascherano, Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti will be involved. This back three is crucial, but without Busquets, that's where the fun begins: the natural, most obvious choice would be André Gomes, who has played multiple games as the holding midfielder, doing well in most of those games. But consider a few factors:
1 - The first time Luis Enrique used the 3-3-1-3 against Atlético Madrid, Mascherano was not on the pitch and the back three was formed by Piqué, Umtiti and Jérémy Mathieu, who was fantastic at the Calderón but got injured in that match and hasn't featured in the new formation since.
2 - Juventus are very good at set pieces. Mathieu is very good at set pieces.
3 - Javier Mascherano has played holding midfield many times before and Barça's holding midfielder on Tuesday needs to be fast and mobile to deal with Paulo Dybala, who plays as a center attacking midfielder behind Gonzalo Higuaín in Juve's new formation.
4 - Mascherano is fast and mobile.
5 - André Gomes is not fast and mobile.
6 - Do you really not know where I'm going with this?
Yup, no André Gomes in Busquets' place, Mathieu on the left, Umtiti in the middle, Piqué on the right of a back three, Mascherano as the holder to deal with Dybala.
Piqué on the right isn't a problem because Juve's left winger is Mandzukic, who isn't quick and mobile. In front of Mascherano, Iniesta and Messi, with Rakitic and Sergi Roberto alternating between center midfield and right wing, which worked wonders against Sevilla (who played a 4-2-3-1 that day).
You think I'm crazy? Me too, but I think André Gomes in terrible form is too easy an answer. Something more complicated is coming, and the Atlético Madrid lineup with Mascherano in place of Busquets is the possible complicated thing coming. It could backfire, but don't be shocked if it happens.
Predicted XI: Ter Stegen | Piqué, Umtiti, Mathieu | Rakitic, Mascherano, Iniesta | Messi | Roberto, Suárez, Neymar