Only victory will do for hosts Juventus on Wednesday night if they are to snatch top spot off resurgent rivals Barcelona in this enticing Champions League clash.
The sides also met in 2016/17’s quarter-finals and here we look at three key battles for what is sure to be another premier match-up.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI V LUIS SUAREZ
Competition does not get much fiercer than when this pair meet.
Infamously, Suarez received a four-month ban from all football-related activity after taking a bite out of Chiellini when Uruguay met Italy at World Cup 2014. But, all differences were soon set aside.
The striker – who has been stymied by a knee injury – received a welcome shot of confidence during the weekend’s La Liga win at Leganes, scoring twice to end a five-match streak without a goal. A return of his trademark sharpness could tip the balance in Barca’s favour, with centre-back-warrior Chiellini now part of a surprisingly-porous backline which has leaked 44 goals in all competitions in 2017/18 compared to 37 after 18 games of the previous campaign.
BLAISE MATUIDI V SERGIO BUSQUETS
Whichever side gains a foothold in midfield will surely go on to dominate this contest.
In France and Juve’s Blaise Matuidi and Spain and Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, two of the finest defensive midfelders of the last decade will be in action at Juventus Stadium.
The latter has clear advantage coming into this clash when judging the statistics. Busquet is averaging three tackles per game in the current Champions League compared to Matuidi’s 0.5, while his average passing accuracy of 92.5 per cent is noticeably superior to his opponent’s 87.5 per cent.
If these trends continue in Turin, Argentina icon Lionel Messi and Suarez should gain room to run riot.
PAULO DYBALA V GERARD PIQUE
A genuine test of Dybala’s big-game reputation lies in store.
Dybala’s star accelerated on its ascent in last year’s quarter-finals when he tormented Pique and his fellow defenders with a brace in the first leg’s 3-0 thrashing. But despite his unbelievable personal start to 2017/18, which featured 12 strikes in his opening 10 run-outs in all competitions, the Argentina forward was eerily quiet at Camp Nou in September when Barca gained partial revenge with their own 3-0 humbling to take control of Group D.
Pique is back from suspension and will form a formidable blockade with dynamic France centre-back Samuel Umtiti. For Dybala to succeed, he will need to get the former in open space and use his rapid dribbling skills to telling effect – such as Sunday’s consolation in the shock 3-2 loss to Sampdoria.
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