MARK O'HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Wednesday night's mouthwatering Champions League quarter-final clash between Barcelona and Juventus.
Barcelona v Juventus | Wednesday 19:45 | BT Sport
I’ve never seen Mission Impossible, nor Mission Impossible 2, Mission Impossible 3, Mission Impossible 4 nor Mission Impossible 5. However, I hope the script writer was a little more inventive than Barcelona in their attempts to cheat history twice in the space of six weeks.
No side had ever overturned a first leg 4-0 deficit but the Blaugrana completed one of the game’s greatest ever comebacks to oust PSG. Now the Catalans must do more than just conquer Juventus at the Camp Nou – Luis Enrique’s charges must crush the Old Lady to keep their European dreams alive.
The visitors have suffered only two defeats in 164 games across all competitions over the last three years by two goals or more and the Bianconeri haven’t been beaten by a three-goal margin or more since January 2011 – a remarkable run of 324 matches over 2,291 days.
In contrast, Barca have suffered losses by two goals or more on four occasions since November and of course by that magic three-goal margin twice in two months. So it’s fair to say Juventus are a more streetwise proposition than their Parisian counterparts were in March.
Lessons learnt by Allegri
With Juve cruising towards a sixth successive Serie A crown, head coach Max Allegri had the luxury of resting his entire back-five – Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Dani Alves, Alex Sandro and Gigi Buffon – for Saturday’s trip to rock-bottom Pescara, which was duly won 2-0.
Star of the first leg Paulo Dybala limped off during the weekend victory but trained on Monday and is expected to be fit with Allegri likely to opt for the same XI in the Catalan capital. And the boss will hope to have learnt lessons from a similar scenario when in charge of Milan back in 2013.
AC beat Barca in the San Siro before suffering a 4-0 collapse at the Camp Nou but knowing a goal for the Old Lady makes the Blaugrana’s task even taller, Allegri has promised his team will attack and is targeting ‘at least two goals’ on Wednesday evening.
Old Lady to go on the attack
Scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the Italians. The win threat of Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, plus Mario Mandzukic from the flanks, gives the guests serious ammunition and Juventus have only once failed to find the back of the net in 22 away days this term whilst Barca have kept two shutouts in 15.
The Old Lady have claimed top honours in all four of their away Champions League games already this season, recorded clean sheets in seven of their nine continental clashes and have recorded W16-D2-L1 since mid-January. So 4/6 quotes from BetVictor on a +1.5 start on the Asian Handicap seems very fair.
But there are better bets elsewhere…
Returning star should aid Barcelona
Malaga are the only team to stop Barcelona from scoring at the Camp Nou since November 2014 and no team in the Champions League have silenced the Catalans in both legs of a knockout tie since Bayern Munich managed it back in May 2013. So we should expect the Blaugrana to get on the scoresheet here.
Lionel Messi is only two goals shy of 500 for Barcelona after scoring twice in their 3-2 triumph against Real Sociedad on Saturday and Neymar will return to the team having missed the weekend’s match. Arguably more crucial though is the availability of Sergio Busquets once more.
Luis Enrique was reportedly unhappy with Javier Mascherano's performance in the Busquets role in Turin, giving possession away to easily and lacking the balance that Busquets provides. Nevertheless, there still appears to be unfixable areas to the hosts’ two preferred systems.
The traditional 4-3-3 leaves the midfield lacking numbers and bite whilst none of their available full-backs look comfortable. But the new look 3-4-3 often leaves Messi crowed out with the defence susceptible to fast-paced counters down the flanks, which Juventus utilised superbly at the J-Stadium.
The betting angle
Although the Catalans’ 6-1 win over PSG will stay with us for our lifetime, the Parisians had opportunities to put the tie to bed. There’s no way the crafty Italians will allow Barcelona similar pleasantries.
Sure, the hosts have won all 15 Camp Nou games in this competition under Luis Enrique but this is their toughest test and when desperation sets in during the second-half, I’d back the Old Lady to take advantage.
Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score looks nailed on but with prohibitive odds on offer, we must look elsewhere. That’s where the 19/10 (888) available for Both Teams To Score in the second-half sticks out. It was profitable in PSG and should go very close again here.
Barcelona v Juventus – Both Teams To Score in the second-half (19/10 888)