Barcelona and Juventus clash at the Nou Camp on Tuesday evening.
The two European giants know each other better than most, having faced-off in the competition last term.
Ahead of the match-up in Catalonia, there are plenty of talking points to be discussed.
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When the teams met in last season’s quarter-final a few months ago, Juventus succeeded in doing something very few teams have managed: keeping Lionel Messi quiet. Twice.
The Argentine star and his teammates were held to a blank over the full 180 minutes as Juve cruised through to the last four with a 3-0 aggregate victory, and their ability to restrict Barca’s attacking power will provide the Italians with great confidence that they can claim a positive result again tonight.
However, things have changed a lot since then. On the one side, Neymar has gone, Ousmane Dembele has arrived and Messi is back in his old ‘false nine’ position in the centre of the pitch rather than starting on the right wing.
And on the other side, Leonardo Bonucci is no longer within Juve’s ranks as they aim for another Camp Nou clean sheet, and another defensive stalwart Giorgio Chiellini is also absent through injury.
Considering those added elements, whatever happened last season is not really relevant and Juve have a major challenge to subdue Messi, who is in red-hot form after his weekend hat-trick against Espanyol.
For a long time, Juve’s attacking ace Paulo Dybala has been heavily linked with a potential move to Barcelona – and those rumours were only enhanced by his decision earlier this month to appoint as his agent his brother, who just happens to live in the Spanish city.
Despite Juve’s stature as by far the most successful team in Italy in recent years, there remains a sense that no attacking player can truly belong to the game’s elite without playing in England, Spain or for Bayern Munich or PSG.
And Dybala, whose brilliant brace for Juve effectively secured their quarter-final clash with Barca last season, should logically be among the leading candidates to become a long-term replacement for Andres Iniesta or Luis Suarez within the Camp Nou ranks.
Another eye-catching performance tonight would undoubtedly strengthen the Spanish club’s interest, so if that move is within Dybala’s sights expect him to be super-motivated.
Ousmane Dembele spent a largely inconsequential 25 minutes on the pitch as he made his Barcelona debut in Saturday’s 5-0 walk in the park win over Espanyol, but his well-crafted last minute assist for Luis Suarez definitely left the home fans wanting more.
Realistically, Saturday’s starter Gerard Deulofeu is only keeping Dembele’s place warm until manager Ernesto Valverde decides the recent record signing is sufficiently match fit to start, and the vast majority of Barca fans are willing that to happen sooner rather than later.
Dembele’s arrival has sparked a great sense of excitement at a club which desperately needed a morale-boosting pick-up after a depressing summer, and the pace and direct running of the 20 year-old French winger could also make him the right kind of player to break down Juve’s stubborn defence.
If he is selected to start, he will be placed under an uncommon amount of pressure for a 20 year-old, and it will be fascinating to see whether he is able to deliver.
For 53 minutes, Chievo battled hard. As they always do, the Veronese side took on one of Serie A’s giant clubs and played the role of spoilers, looking to slow down the game and turn it into a physical battle.
Sure, they trailed 1-0 thanks to an unfortunate own goal, but they had frustrated a Juventus team who were unable to add a crucial second goal despite possessing far superior players to their opponents.
Then Max Allegri sent on Paulo Dybala. The 23-year-old had been left on the bench to recover from his long flight back from international duty with Argentina, but the Coach recognised the need to introduce him with 37 minutes remaining.
— Adam Digby (@Adz77) September 11, 2017
What followed was a devastating display of clinical attacking football, the man known as La Joya – “The Jewel” – sparkling even in the midst of a foul Turin storm. The rain-soaked Juventus Stadium became a stage for Dybala’s latest virtuoso performance, Chievo simply having no answer for his slaloming runs and incredible sleight-of-foot.
Time and time again he drove through the centre of the pitch, carving open a previously resolute defence who simply could not stop him. Less than three minutes after coming on for Douglas Costa, he deftly controlled a high ball forward from Stephan Lichtsteiner, instantly turning and skipping beyond two would-be tacklers. He laid it off to Miralem Pjanić who cleverly reversed a pass to Gonzalo Higuain. The big No.9 made no mistake, slamming his shot beyond the goalkeeper and into the roof of the net. 2-0.
Paulo Dybala CONTROLLED THE BALL WITH HIS BACK in the build up to Gonzalo Higuain's goal yesterday… https://t.co/QgUgZQTCDC
— Adam Digby (@Adz77) September 11, 2017
Replays showed that Dybala audaciously brought down that initial looping pass with his back, a piece of skill that shows just how much confidence the young Argentinian in his ability. He was not done there of course, adding a goal of his own when he once again danced his way through the defence before slipping the ball home.
“I’m fortunate enough to know him very well and I’m not remotely surprised by how well he’s doing,” Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino said when asked about his former Palermo team-mate by Mediaset Premium. “I was able to play with Dybala for two and a half years, so imagine the number of times I had to fly to my right and left in training! He can still improve a great deal and will become the best. He has everything it takes to win the Ballon d’Or – I just hope when it happens, he invites me to the party.”
The idea of Dybala claiming the sport’s highest individual accolade is certainly gathering momentum, boosted by his lightening fast start to the new season. He has already bagged five league goals in just 216 minutes of action, while also netting a brace in the Supercoppa Italiana defeat to Lazio.
Before that clash it was announced that he would switch from No.21 to No.10, a shirt among the most prestigious in the game. Omar Sivori, Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and of course Alessandro Del Piero are among the iconic stars to have previously worn it, the latter the last man to score five goals in Juve’s first three games of a season.
It’s been a while since a Juventus player started the season as well as Paulo Dybala has 🔥 pic.twitter.com/LY8bY9B51s
— B/R Football (@brfootball) September 9, 2017
With that feat matched, focus now turns to Barcelona as Juventus travel to Camp Nou for a Champions League appointment with Lionel Messi and co. The Blaugrana were despatched by the Italian side at the quarterfinal stage last term, Dybala netting twice in a 3-0 home win before a 0-0 draw in the second leg.
Few would bet on him and Juve to leave Catalonia without a goal this time around however, while Barca must hope their defenders can chase Dybala more successfully than their directors did this summer. Identified as a replacement for Neymar, the Bianconeri simply rebuffed every approach, both the player and club happy to not even discuss the possibility of an exit.
“Dybala is improving a great deal and has everything it takes to become, along with Neymar after Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi, one of the best players in the world,” Allegri told reporters after the final whistle against Chievo. “His future is with Juventus and I’m very happy with that!”
The Tuscan Coach certainly should be. This was not the first time Paulo Dybala has single-handedly put an opponent to the sword while wearing those famous black and white stripes, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Barca have already watched him tear through their defence once in 2017, will we see a repeat on Tuesday?
Paris Saint-Germain kick off their latest bid for Champions League glory at Celtic on Tuesday bolstered by the big-money signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
The French giants will be hoping that their lavish close-season spending can help finally achieve their Qatari owners’ dream of lifting the European Cup.
PSG responded to last season’s disappointments of losing the Ligue 1 title to Monaco and their stunning Champions League last-16 defeat at Barcelona, by smashing the world record transfer fee with the 222 million-euro ($267m) signing of Neymar from Barca.
While Qatar’s billions produced four consecutive French titles from 2013-2016, that form has yet to translate to European competition.
PSG’s last, and only, Champions League semi-final appearance was in 1995, with four straight last-eight exits followed by the harrowing 6-1 second-leg loss at the Camp Nou earlier this year, having beaten Barca 4-0 in the first game.
But with the additions of Neymar and Mbappe, hopes are high that Unai Emery’s men can put their continental troubles to bed.
“We are more than ready for the Champions League,” said defender Thomas Meunier after a 5-1 thrashing of Metz on Friday.
“We are a very good group, we can see that on the bench today with all the options we have.
“Every footballer plays for the Champions League, and with the team we have this year, we must show the world that we want to go further than in previous years.”
Teenage sensation Mbappe joined from Monaco on deadline day on a season-long loan, with an option to buy for a fee that could reach a staggering 180 million euros.
“It’s too early to say (how far we can go), we haven’t even played yet,” said Mbappe, who scored on his debut against Metz.
“We have a good team and a lot of confidence, but we know that there’s still a lot of work to do. We’ll go to Glasgow to win and to start well.
“I’ve always said that the Champions League is a special competition, it is the competition for the big players and where we see the big players.”