The last time Juventus welcomed Barcelona to Turin for a Champions League game, it was last season. It was glorious, and Paulo Dybala had every Barca pointing at him and saying “WE MUST PAY ALL THE MONEY FOR HIM!” whenever the next transfer window arrived. It was the Dybala Show, and Lionel Messi, the man who many in Spain want Dybala to succeed at the club level, had a front row seat for it.
The last time Juventus and Barcelona played in the Champions League, well, that was a completely different story. Call it revenge or what
So, here we are.
Barcelona is about to return to the scene of two of Dybala’s most important and beautiful goals since he started to regularly wear a Juventus jersey. One team comes in riding an unbeaten run that stretches all the way back to the third week of August. The other team is coming off another disappointing performance and result that left them searching for answers once again afterward.
I think we know which team is which.
Just as it was a few weeks back the last time Juventus faced another member of their Champions League group, the possibility of being a part of the knockout round is there for the taking. It’s just hanging there waiting to be snagged like we’re playing Capture the Flag or something like that.
As Sam outlined after Sampdoria loss on Sunday, there are three ways in which Juventus can lock up a spot in the knockout round Wednesday night. Sez Sam:
- Juve beat Barcelona.
- Juve draw with Barcelona AND Sporting fail to defeat Olympiacos.
- Juve lose to Barcelona AND Sporting loses to Olympiacos.
That’s it. That’s the list.
It’s not all that difficult to figure out.
Juventus gets a positive result and they’re one of the 16 to be playing Champions League football come the new year. The logistics of it are pretty easy to figure out. Actually doing so ... well, that’s just something that doesn’t exactly have us brimming with confidence right now.
We’ve waited for things to really click with this squad. That hasn’t exactly happened yet on a consistent basis. They can show it for 30 or 45 minutes in an single game or maybe, on the rare occasion, put a complete 90-minute effort together as they did against Milan at the San Siro.
They’ll need to play as close to a complete game as they’ve had all season long against Barcelona on Wednesday night. The first game against Barca showed what can happen when you don’t take advantage of your chances against a really good team.
You probably knew that already. But dammit, the way things are going, a solid reminder doesn’t hurt anybody. (Even if you already knew that, too.)
Based on what we saw from Juventus in the second half on Sunday, I might have to get back to you on this one.
We can’t say that Lionel Messi hasn’t scored a goal on Gianluigi Buffon anymore. :(
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Which Juventus team is going to show up?
Well, I really have no idea.
So there’s that. Have a good night, everybody!
...okay, fine, we’ll talk a little bit more about this.
At this point, we’ve seen a Juventus side struggle to really look close to its potential rather than resemble to all-around effort like we saw in the aforementioned Milan win a few weeks back. But the inconsistencies have far outweighed the fact that this team is still incredibly talented despite its obvious flaws.
We want to see something we’ve come to know around here as Angry Juventus. We haven’t seen Angry Juventus much this season for whatever reason. Although, you would think with some of the frustrating results that this team has head this season that Angry Juventus might be around more often than in previous years.
We’re pretty much still waiting for this team to come off a disappointing performance or result and playing its next game like they want to crush the opposition.
Knowing the fact that they’re all over the place with their performances, are coming off a really bad loss to Sampdoria over the weekend and have one of the best teams in the world coming into their home stadium on Wednesday night, Juventus can’t have the same problems show their ugly faces again and expect to win. That just won’t happen — and I don’t think you need to be some kind of football wizard and/or expert to figure that one out.
Juve need to be Juve, not some shell of the team we know they can be. That’s about as short and sweet as I can put it.
2) Can Paulo Dybala start to get his groove back?
Dybala’s appearance off the bench against Sampdoria on Sunday was a rather quiet one until he found the back of the net, ending a run where he had only found the back of the net once in his last nine appearances in all competitions.
To say Dybala will be important against Barcelona is like saying I love golden retriever puppies. (Seriously, look up some videos of them on Instagram. They’re hilarious.) He’s the No. 10, he’s their leading goal scorer and he’s the one who put the team on his back the last time they picked up a positive result against Barcelona.
But ever since scoring 12 goals in Juve’s first eight games in all competitions, that insane early-season pace has been tough to recreate.
Since the calendar flipped from September to October, Dybala has scored just twice in nine appearances. That’s not just seeing your form cool off, that’s taking a bit of a nosedive from being red-hot when it comes to scoring goals to suddenly fighting an uphill battle to find the back of the net.
To expect Dybala to be in record-setting form like he was the first month of the season for the entire season or a large chunk of it would have obviously been a little too much to ask of him regardless of how good he is. But I don’t think anybody expected the goals to just dry up like they have for the last six or seven weeks.
That’s why getting Dybala back on the scoresheet like he did on Sunday against Sampdoria could be so big for both his own personal and Juve’s success going forward. Juve need Dybala to be the player he was in September more than the one from October more often than not.
And that’s especially the case against Barcelona. Not just because the man he’s compared to, Lionel Messi, will be lining up a few feet away from him in the opposing No. 10 jersey. But because Juve need to get right — and so does Dybala.
3) Can Juve’s defense even come close to keeping Leo Messi and Co. quiet?
Well, if they can’t do much of anything good in the second half against Duvan Zapata and Fabio Quagliarella...
Okay, so that’s not a very good sign.
Not only has Juve’s defense not been great pretty all season long, but it was especially poor at Camp Nou back in mid-September as Messi and Barcelona took things from being scoreless to a 3-0 lead within a 25-minute span.
Another defensive performance like that and Juventus will likely be heading into the final group stage game without a spot in the knockout phase wrapped up.
How’s that for optimism?
The easy thing is to say that Juve’s defense needs to play better and rise to the occasion against the likes of Messi, Suarez and Iniesta. We want them to. We need them to if Juve want to be successful and advance to the knockout stage and potentially make a deep run in the competition. The thing is, though, there haven’t been many signs that tell us they’re going to do that.
Maybe things will click in the biggest game of the season to date. Maybe it will be just like it was in Spain two months ago. Maybe the uncertainty will just drive us all nuts.
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Mattia De Sciglio, Daniele Rugani, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy
Kickoff time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: Fox Sports 1 USA, ESPN Deportes USA, (United States); TSN4, RDS 2 (Canada); BT Sport ESPN (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: WatchESPN, FOX Sports GO, fuboTV, FOX Soccer Match Pass, ESPN3 USA (United States) RDS GO, TSN GO (Canada); BT Sport Live (United Kingdom); Premium Play (Italy)
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