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Champions League Preview: Juventus vs. Barcelona

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A very big game that will be missing some very big names.

Juventus v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/Soccrates/Getty Images

Juventus playing Barcelona is always going to be a big occasion because of what kind of respective histories the two clubs have. They are giants in their respective leagues and currently employ to of the most recognizable and accomplished players this generation — if not the history of the game — the footballing world has ever seen. They have history, they have prestige and they have a whole bunch of titles between the two of them.

They are also two clubs who are very much in transition. They are two clubs who are far from full strength. They are two clubs who are still trying to figure things out while their new managers try to settle in and make some major changes.

And, because of that, this meeting of European giants is quite the interesting one for more than just the fact that they’ve got big names not taking part in this very big (and important) Champions League fixture.

Barcelona’s trip to Turin will see an old friend in Miralem Pjanic face Juventus for the first time since his move to Spain over the summer, but also see one of Barca’s old “friends,” Cristiano Ronaldo, not take the field due to the fact he currently can’t test negative for COVID-19. Juventus, who opened the Champions League group stage with a 2-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine last week, will now look to take Group G all for themselves when they face Barcelona on Wednesday night.

And just like before the trip to Kyiv, Juventus will be trying to exercise some of the demons of a tough weekend result at the hands of a lower-level Serie A side.

They’ll try to do it without Ronaldo, without Giorgio Chiellini, without Matthijs de Ligt and Alex Sandro. Juventus are far from at full strength entering what is easily the biggest game of this early season. The one thing that may offset all of that is, even though Barca has its supernatural player available in Lionel Messi, the Spanish giants are far from full strength as well.

What does all of that mean?

Oh, man. Ain’t that the million dollar question.

We know Juventus are shorthanded and short defenders. We also know that Barcelona, a team that has been far from impressive to start the season in their own right, is shorthanded and short defenders. For all the offensive firepower there is out there even with the notable absentee who wears Juventus’ No. 7 jersey, this game could very well hinge on which defense actually looks like something that resembles a competent unit. There are injuries, there are suspensions, and there will be players being relied on who maybe a couple of weeks ago you might not have been expecting to be relying on.

Juventus playing Barcelona will get the headlines because of who they are in their respective names and history. But, with both squads being far from finished products when it comes to this season’s iteration of what both managers want them to be, it’s hard to even get a sense of where this game could actually go.

Maybe Andrea Pirlo has a better idea of that than I do. He does spend a little more time around the squad these days than any of us do, right?

If “beautiful” also means successful, then I’m all for it, Mister. Hopefully beautiful means something close to beautiful, because I know the opposite of beautiful was pretty much 80 percent of the games we watched last season — and nobody wants to see that again.

TEAM NEWS

  • As you know by now, Cristiano Ronaldo is still positive for coronavirus and has been ruled out for Wednesday night’s game. To be eligible to play, Ronaldo needed to both test negative and then undergo a physical to ensure everything was good to go. Obviously the first step in the process still hasn’t happened yet, so no dice for the first-ever Ronaldo-Messi showdown in Juventus colors.
  • As declared by Pirlo at his pre-match press conference Tuesday, Giorgio Chiellini and Matthijs de Ligt are “definitely” out.
  • Also of note from Pirlo’s pre-match press conference, he said: “We’ll play with four in defense, it’s the only viable solution at this time. In midfield it will be a challenge between two very technical departments.”
  • Pirlo said Juve will “evaluate” Leonardo Bonucci’s health status following his early substitution over the weekend against Hellas Verona. Bonucci took part in training at least in some shape and for Tuesday. To what extent we’re not totally sure since there’s only a small window in which the media can observe said training session. So, we’ll see.

JUVENTUS PLAYER TO WATCH

Under normal circumstances, a big Champions League game would see a certain somebody who wears No. 7 or another one of Juventus’ big names going into such a big game.

But, as we know, these are far from normal circumstances — especially in defense.

So, as we wait to see whether there will be more than one healthy natural central defender available for Andrea Pirlo to choose from, we might as well focus on the one defender that we know will play, right?

Juventus v Hellas Verona FC - Serie A Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Based on what we know and what Pirlo said during his pre-match press conference, Merih Demiral is the only 100 percent healthy central defender that Juventus currently has. You can throw Danilo in there if you want, but we know he is pretty much just keeping the seat warm for Matthijs de Ligt on the right side of Pirlo’s back three and then we’ll see where things go.

But, say Bonucci isn’t ready to go like some folks expect him to be, then what?

Well, then it’s going to be Demiral’s defense to lead. I’m guessing a few people around here didn’t expect that previous sentence to be written as Juventus heads into their second Champions League game of the 2020-21 season.

The one positive in this situation — and I know it can be considered a little bit of a stretch when you look at what Juve’s backline situation is — is that Demiral isn’t coming into this kind of thing ice cold. It’s not like last season where he went from not playing all that much the first couple months of the season and then suddenly is now a regular starter. Demiral has been in the lineup for as much as anybody coming out of the international break. Throw in the two games with Turkey during the international break and I think it’s safe to say that Demiral has his legs back after his lengthy injury layoff due to knee surgery.

Even if Bonucci does somehow end up playing, Demiral will be Juve’s most important defender. We know Bonucci has been a little hit-and-miss so far this season, so you’re not sure what you’re going to get from him whenever he takes the field.

Demiral is raw, does some stuff that you wish he wouldn’t, is probably a little reckless with a good portion of his tackles, but he’s also capable of a commanding defensive performance. He’s got that kind of level to him even though he’s been thought about as the “other” central defender who arrived in the summer of 2019 along with Matthijs de Ligt.

He may be one half of the center back pairing of the future. But Juventus need him to turn in a big-time showing in the present if they want any chance of getting a result against Barcelona on Wednesday night.

MATCH INFO

When: Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020

Where: Allianz Stadium, Turin, Italy

Official kickoff time: 9 p.m. local time in Italy and across Europe; 8 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 4 p.m. Eastern Time; 1 p.m. Pacific Time

HOW TO WATCH

Television: UniMás, TUDN USA (United States); BT Sport 3 (United Kingdom); Sky Sport Uno, Sky Sport 252, Canale 5 (Italy)

Online/mobile: CBS All Access, Univision NOW, TUDN App, TUDN.com, TUDNxtra (United States); DAZN (Canada); BTSport.com, BT Sport App (United Kingdom); Sky Go Italia (Italy)

Other live viewing options can be found here, and as always, you can also follow along with us live and all the stupid things we say on Twitter. If you haven’t already, join the community on Black & White & Read All Over, and join in the discussion below.