The UEFA Champions League quarterfinal games have been scheduled for this week, i.e. from the 12th to the 19th of April. Fans of the game do not often get to see teams as entertaining and tactful as Juventus and Barcelona meet in a quarterfinal of the biggest tournament in world football!
Two-times UEFA Champions League winners Juventus host five-times Champions of Europe Barcelona, on the 12th of April, in the first leg of this quarterfinal. Few would have forgotten the passionate Champions League final of 2015, where these two sides met in a game no less sizzling and sensational than a FIFA World Cup game. While Suarez, Messi and Neymar lifted the treble that year, Italian midfield maestro Pirlo ended his long term association with Juventus on a poignant note, unable to become a champion of Europe with the Old Lady.
Barcelona, who have entered this UEFA Champions League quarterfinal on the back of one of the most spectacular comebacks ever seen in a second leg of any tournament ever, are in contention for the title this year as well. The 6-1 victory over Paris St Germain, after a 4-0 first leg loss to the French giants, has the world of football divided. Some say that the Catalonians won due to absolute negligence on part of the referee. Some think of it as a well-deserved passionate display of sheer willpower by Barca. Regardless, they face Juventus now, and would have to be on their toes, for their hosts in this encounter will not give in to their intimidation. Further, a loss in the La Liga to Malaga, may have dented the atmosphere in the dressing room.
Juventus have entered quarters after defeating achieving a 3-0 aggregate win over Porto. Paulo Dybala scored the winner in the second leg to ensure that Porto went home without any glimmer of hope.
The Italians, who have seldom lost a game on their home territory to European visitors have their own triad in Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Chelsea loanee Juan Cuadrado. These three upfront, backed with the dynamic, well-balanced central midfield partnership of Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira makes for a solid squad. Mario Mandzukic, who has recently returned to training is likely to be in the team along with Dani Alves, who is expected to start against his former side.
Midfield anchor Sergio Busquets serves a one match suspension for Barcelona, while Aleix Vidal and Rafinha too are out for this one with long-term injuries. Busquets’s absence in the middlfe of the park could mean the Andres Iniesta moves into a deeper role alongside either Andres Gomes or Javier Mascherano. (It should not come off as a surprise if Mascherano starts ahead of Gomes).
History suggests that both teams will try and control the tempo of the game in the first half, by either keeping possession, or by remaining off the ball and marking the opposition zonally. However, it is safe to presume that all hell may break lose if nothing happens 60 minutes into the game!
Venue: Corso Gaetano Scirea, 50, 10151 Torino, Italy
Time: 12:15 AM (IST), 9:45 PM (GMT+2)