Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are poised to go head to head when Barcelona play hosts to Juventus at Camp Nou on Tuesday.
Barcelona will be hoping to secure top spot in Group G in the UEFA Champions League when they lock horns with Juventus on Tuesday, in what will be one of the most highly anticipated matches of the 2020/21 campaign.
The excitement of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, two of the greatest footballers of modern times, playing against each other was shattered in the reverse fixture as the former contracted COVID-19, effectively ruling him out of the clash. This time, however, Ronaldo is fit and ready to feature. He will need to be at his best as Juventus look to snatch top spot in Group G.
Both sides have secured their qualification to the knockout stage heading into this game, but Barcelona are leading the group with a three-point advantage. The Catalan giants had also secured a 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture, meaning Juventus need to register a 3-0 victory or win the game by a two goal margin other than a 2-0 result to top the group.
The visitors do have a slight advantage in terms of momentum as they have done relatively well in Serie A, especially when compared to Barcelona, who are coming on the back of a 2-1 defeat to Cadiz this past weekend. It was their fourth loss in ten matches this season, with the Blaugrana worryingly trailing league leaders Atletico Madrid by 12 points.
Ronald Koeman’s men do, however, deserve credit for their Champions League performances this season. They are, in fact, the only team to have registered a hundred percent winning record in the group stages so far, and the Spanish giants will have no intention of breaking that momentum anytime soon. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at this fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Barcelona were dealt with a major blow on Sunday after the club confirmed that Ousmane Dembele picked up a knock. He is said to be out for the remainder of the month, thus joining Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto and Ansu Fati in the list of injury-related absentees for the home side.
Samuel Umtiti is also a doubt heading into this game, meaning we should see Ronald Araujo forming the central defensive pairing alongside Clement Lenglet. Roberto’s continued absence makes Sergino Dest a guaranteed starter as the right-back, with Jordi Alba completing Barcelona’s back four.
Despite having secured qualification to the knockout rounds, Ronald Koeman will be aware of the fact a win against Juventus could lift some pressure off his shoulders following a disastrous start to the domestic campaign. So there’s every possibility of the Dutchman fielding the strongest possible eleven on Tuesday.
Koeman does, however, face a selection dilemma in midfield, where he might be tempted to start Miralem Pjanic ahead of Sergio Busquets due to the Bosnian’s past commitment with Juventus, making him better equipped to face players like Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur.
Pjanic should, therefore, form the double-pivot alongside Frenkie de Jong, whose industry and dynamism could come in handy as Barcelona look to dominate the midfield at Camp Nou. Moving forward, the absence of Dembele makes Pedri a favourite to earn a start on Tuesday.
The youngster should operate on the right-hand channel, with Lionel Messi acting as a number ten and Phillipe Coutinho featuring on the left flank. Messi, however, could join forces with Antoine Griezmann during the defensive phases, making it a situational 4-4-2. Koeman, meanwhile, could later introduce the in-form Martin Braithwaite in the second half.
Probable Lineups (4-2-3-1): ter Stegen; Dest, Araujo, Lenglet, Alba; Pjanic, de Jong; Pedri, Messi, Coutinho; Griezmann
Juventus have to deal with some of key absentees of their own including Merih Demiral and veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini. They do have reliable alternatives, though, with Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt set to continue featuring at the heart of the four-man backline.
There could be one change in defence, though, as Alex Sandro is expected to replace Danilo at left-back. The latter is an option as a centre-back as well, should Andrea Pirlo opt for a three-man backline, but that is an unlikely scenario against Barcelona’s traditional system. So Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro will both have to feature in a deeper wide defensive role this midweek.
Gianluigi Buffon is another player out injured, as far as Juventus’s defensive department is concerned, though it remains a redundant one as Wojciech Szczesny is the undisputed favourite in between the sticks.
In midfield, Pirlo will have to make some huge decisions as his team clearly needs to improve their ball progression. It has been a problem for them in the league, at least and they could be punished for doing the same against a quality team like Barcelona.
Aaron Ramsey, Weston McKennie and even ex-Barcelona star Arthur Melo are more dynamic and better alternatives should Juventus look for better ball-progression in the middle third of the pitch. However, it appears Pirlo could continue with the same midfield combination of Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur, though all three of the aforementioned options are in contention to feature as second half substitutes.
Pirlo is not expected to make any changes elsewhere either, with Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa once again likely to get the nod ahead of the likes of Federico Bernardeschi and Manolo Portanova while the Juventus attack should be spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata, whose suspension in Serie A does not apply in European matches.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Szczesny; Cuadrado, Bonucci, de Ligt, Sandro; Kulusevski, Rabiot, Bentancur, Chiesa; Morata, Ronaldo
- Barcelona have gone unbeaten in their last four meetings with Juventus in the Champions League, winning two of the three games in this run that occurred in the group stages.
- Juventus’s only away victory against Barcelona in the Champions League came back in April 2003 (2-1), having failed to win either of their two trips there in the competition since.
- Juventus have not scored in any of their last four meetings with Barcelona in the Champions League. Since Giorgio Chiellini’s goal in the 3-0 win in April 2017, they have gone 385 minutes of play without scoring against the Spanish side in the competition.
- Barcelona have won more final group stage games in the Champions League than any other side in the competition, with the Catalans grabbing all three points in 19 of their 27 such games.
- Juventus have won nine of their last ten Champions League group stage matches – the one game they failed to win was against Barcelona in the reverse fixture on Matchday 2 this season.
Players to Watch
Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo
— Express Sports (@IExpressSports) December 7, 2020
There’s a little wonder who else fans should look out for in this game other than the iconic duo of Messi and Ronaldo. As iterated earlier, both are fit and ready to feature on Tuesday, in what will be their first clash against each other since the latter joined Juventus from Real Madrid back in summer of 2018.
Ronaldo’s presence in the team has significantly boosted Juventus’s prowess in the Champions League in recent years despite the team lacking the overall cohesion when compared to other clubs. And the Italian giants will be banking on the Portuguese sensation to put up yet another masterclass on Tuesday as they hope to pip Barcelona for the top spot in Group G.
Messi, on the other hand, is not having the best of seasons in La Liga, but he has fired on all cylinders in the Champions League, having been involved in five goals in three matches. The Argentine was involved in both the goals in Barcelona’s 2-0 win in the reverse fixture, so he remains a safe bet on Tuesday.
Barcelona 1-1 Juventus
This is always a difficult game to predict considering the fact that Juventus have been boosted by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo while Barcelona are missing key players. It serves as an ideal recipe for a closely contested fixture which promises to be nothing like we saw in the first leg.
While the hosts are hugely expected to dominate possession, Juventus shouldn’t find it a problem considering how much creativity their opposition has lacked this season. So we are expecting a 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp this midweek, which seals top spot for Barcelona in Group G.