MARK O'HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Tuesday night's mouthwatering Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Barcelona.
Juventus v Barcelona | Tuesday 19:45 | BT Sport
Barcelona produced the greatest ever European comeback when staging an incredible fightback against PSG to clinch a quarter-final berth just over a month ago and the Catalans are likely to be facing another first leg deficit when they return home from Turin on Tuesday evening.
Luis Enrique’s troops have qualified for the last-eight for a record 10th season on the spin but the Blaugrana make the journey without suspended Sergio Busquets in midfield and on the back of arguably their worst La Liga performance of the campaign on Saturday night.
Barca slumped to a 2-0 loss at Malaga in a match that saw Neymar sent off. It was only the second game in the past year that FCB failed to score – both occasions against Malaga – and the defeat represented their third reverse in five on the road.
The Catalans were ragged at the back, wasteful in possession and petulant without the ball. Considering Real Madrid had dropped points earlier in the day, Barcelona effectively sealed their own fate in the title race with Javier Mascherano’s blaming a lack of freshness for the display.
System creates problems
Luis Enrique’s preferred 4-3-3 system has often seen the superstar front three a little too disconnected from the rest of the side and there’s been extra pressure on the midfield three to step-up.
A recent switch to 3-4-3 has alleviated that but problems arise elsewhere. The emphasis on attacking wing-backs has seen Neymar and Lionel Messi’s space on the flanks disappear and the Blaugrana pair are often forced inside, cramping the space available when opposed with deep-lying defences as well as Luis Suarez hunting service.
But take formation and team selection out of the equation and Barcelona have too often failed to collect good enough results when outside of the Camp Nou. The visitors have claimed just four triumphs in 10 away Champions League outings (W4-D2-L4) and been beaten in three of their last four knockout games as guests.
The Catalans boast a superb scoring record – notching at least twice in 24 of their last 30 Champions League matches – but without Busquets and with only three Champions League clean sheets in 13 ties outside of Barcelona, they’re obviously vulnerable here.
Juventus are well on their way to claiming a record sixth successive Serie A crown and the Italian champions had the luxury of resting the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Mario Mandzukic and Miralem Pjanic for Saturday’s cushy 2-0 stroll at home to Chievo.
Gonzalo Higuain has now bagged back-to-back braces and with the pace, invention and muscle of Paulo Dybala, Juan Cuadrado and Mandzukic tucked in behind the Argentine hitman, the Old Lady certainly don’t lack attacking punch to punish any mediocre defending in the Barca camp.
Unbeatable at home
Max Allegri has built a formidable outfit in Turin, and with Marko Pjaca the only player unavailable, Juve look well placed to make a mockery of 9/5 (Bet365) quotes on claiming a first leg victory. The Bianconeri are unbeaten at home to Barcelona and haven’t lost a home European tie since April 2013 (W12-D9-L0).
In fact, Juventus have lost in their own backyard across any competition since August 2015, boast a 100% record here in the league this season and have now clinched a staggering 32 Serie A victories on the spin at the J Stadium.
Champions League form
The Italians are desperate to end their 21-year drought in this tournament and it’s difficult to dismiss their claims. The Bianconeri are unbeaten in the competition this term having shipped just two goals and accruing six clean sheets across their eight encounters.
Porto were swatted aside 3-0 on aggregate during the Last 16 phase and Allegri has the luxury of fielding the continent’s best defence. The Juve boss will also have noted how PSG and Malaga exploited Barca with a high press so we should expect similar tactics employed by the hosts here.
Other betting possibilities
Considering the generous odds on offer for a home success, it’s tempting to head elsewhere for a second wager. Rarely do we get the opportunity to back Messi to score at odds-against but the world’s greatest is an 8/5 (Paddy Power) play – a value play with the superstar scoring in 19 of his past 25 Barca games.
There’s also interest in the 21/20 (William Hill) on Over 2.5 Goals. It’s a routine winner when Barcelona are involved and with six of the eight first leg Last 16 fixtures featuring at least three goals, punters might be keen on a repeat.
However, Juventus are rarely involved in shootouts and over the past 10 years of Champions League action, there’s a 55%-60% bias towards low-scoring first legs. With that in mind, Juventus to win and Under 2.5 Goals should also be considered at 15/4 (BetStars).
Juventus v Barcelona – Juventus to win (9/5 Bet365)