Event: UEFA Champions League quarter final 2nd leg
Date: Wednesday, 19th April 2017
Kick Off: 7:45pm (Nigerian time)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Can lightning strike twice? That’s the multi-billion dollar question on every passionate football follower’s lips ahead of tonight’s cracker at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona will be chasing another Champions League miracle when they host Juventus in the second leg of their quarter-final.
For the second round in a row, Luis Enrique’s side have given themselves a huge mountain to climb after losing 3-0 in Turin last week, when Paulo Dybala struck twice and Giorgio Chiellini added a third for Juve.
Barcelona managed to overturn a 4-0 deficit in the last round of the competition against PSG, but the Italian champions should, as expected, prove sterner opposition.
The Blaugrana trail Juventus 3-0, but there is hope for the fans with even the shortest of memories, and coach Luis Enrique knows only one way: “Attack, attack, attack. Then attack some more.”
Interestingly, Neymar is confident the Catalans can launch another remarkable Champions League comeback as they look to overturn the 3-0 deficit.
Just as they had done in the previous round, when Barcelona overcame a 4-0 first-leg deficit to eliminate PSG, the Spanish giants will be relying on Neymar to produce another magical performance if they are to reach the semi-finals.
The Brazilian scored Barcelona’s fourth and fifth goals in the last 16 second leg, setting up the sixth too, as they won 6-1 to progress 6-5 on aggregate.
If Barcelona are to do the impossible in the quarter-final as well, after losing 3-0 in Turin, they will need the winger to be at his electric best.
Neymar should be well rested after missing Barcelona’s 3-2 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday, the first of three matches he is suspended for in La Liga, including next Sunday’s El Clasico.
Having been sent off in the team’s 2-0 defeat at Malaga and hit with a longer ban after sarcastically applauding the fourth official, he has a point to prove in the Champions League.
“We have to believe we can do it,” said Neymar in an interview with Brazilian television channel Esporte Interativo.
“The other day my father told me one thing which has stayed in my head, and I think it’s true. In front of us we have a different team, but Barcelona is the same. And we can do it.
“We did it once and we can do it a second time. We have to give our absolute maximum. If everything goes well, there will be another comeback.
“I believe in the team and in our power. Everything is lost (already), so we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Rafinha (knee), Aleix Vidal (ankle) are long-term absentees owing to injuries while the likes of Arda Turan (groin), Mascherano (calf), Mathieu (unspecified) are doubtful though they all trained with the squad on Tuesday morning, while Sergio Busquets is available after missing the first leg through suspension. Neymar, Piqué, Rakitić, Suárez are just one card away from missing the next match i.e if they advance to the next stage.
On Juve’s part, Forward Pjaca (knee) is the only injury concern the Old Lady have got while the likes of Cuadrado, Mandžukić and Khedira could miss the semis – if they do advance as widely tipped – with one more booking.
Neymar missed their weekend win over Real Sociedad through suspension and should return to the starting XI, while Andres Iniesta was a second-half substitute in that match and is set for a recall to the line-up.
Dybala suffered an injury in Juventus’ weekend win at Pescara but should be fit to face Barcelona, while the rest of the team is set to be unchanged from the first leg.
Dani Alves, Leonardo Bonucci, Sami Khedira, Alex Sandro, Gianluigi Buffon and Chiellini were all rested on Saturday and should be restored to the starting line-up by Massimiliano Allegri.
KEY STATISTICS TO BEAR IN MIND AS THE COUNTDOWN TICKS AWAY
-No team has ever overturned a 3-0 first-leg defeat in the Champions League knockout stages in eight previous attempts, although Barcelona managed the biggest ever comeback in the last round by eliminating Paris SG 6-5 on aggregate after a 4-0 first leg defeat.
-Juventus’ last trip to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona ended in a 2-1 win, back in April 2003, courtesy of goals from Pavel Nedved and Marcelo Zalayeta. The Turin side later made it to the Champions League final only to lose on penalties to AC Milan.
-Barcelona have won their last 15 Champions League games at the Camp Nou (50 goals scored, 7 conceded), all since Luis Enrique took charge. It’s currently the longest run in the competition and two short of the record held by Bayern Munich (16).
-Barcelona have scored at least three goals in seven of their last eight Champions League games at the Camp Nou. However, Barcelona have lost three of their last six Champions League games, as many losses as in their previous 26 games under Luis Enrique.
-Barcelona have reached the quarter-finals for the 10th consecutive season, the longest run in the history of the Champions League. However, they have been knocked out at that stage in two of the last three seasons. Meanwhile, Juventus have made it to the quarter-finals for the third time in the last five Champions League seasons. In that period, no other Italian club has reached the Last 8 of the competition.
-After failing to reach the last four of the Champions League from 2003/04 to 2013/14, Juventus now have the chance to make the semis for the second time in the last three seasons (after 2014/15).
Luis Enrique (Barcelona): “My preference wouldn’t only have been a couple of weeks to plan, but a holiday in the Maldives too! This is a bit similar to the PSG match but in theory we need to score fewer goals – instead of four, just three to square things. But I think Juve will have their chances, so our objective is to score five.
“If we score the first goal early, the Camp Nou atmosphere will help conjure a second and third…that’ll take care of itself. Right now we’ve nothing to lose. There’s only one option: attack, attack, attack. Then, when we relax a little, attack some more.
“To the fans I’d say: “Don’t leave in the 80th minute because you’ll miss something, for sure. This is another night to make history.”
“We will try right until the end,” said Luis Enrique. “Those who experienced the night against PSG at Camp Nou will have another chance to enjoy a historic evening. Right until the 95th minute, we have to be united.
“We have to get the fans involved in our game and our intensity. We need Camp Nou to bounce to experience another special evening. Many results at home and the recent comeback against PSG are statistics that invite optimism. We have to create a collective crazy atmosphere so our players can perform at their best.
“We need to intimidate a team like Juventus to the maximum.”
Massimiliano Allegri (Juventus): “We have to be clever in choosing when to attack, when to defend. I guess Barcelona haven’t changed much in a week – they are full of potential, something we knew in Turin. We need to be smart. We need to be clear-minded, technical and not think of the scoreline. We will go out to try and win again.
“Perhaps we’ll adjust the tactics but I’d imagine they’ll be very minor changes. Barcelona have three quality strikers but I’m confident that my midfield and defence can contain them.
FORM GUIDE (all competitions, most recent first)
VERDICT: Apparently, this is an entirely different kettle of fish from the PSG episode? Why? Juventus don’t give away too much, they are about the best defence in Europe over the years and up till now and have even conceded the least goals in this season’s edition. Their defensive organization is top-notch when compared to PSG, again, the French side kind off showed Barca so much respect on the night. Juventus wouldn’t do that. They equally have a deadly attack that can hurt the Blaugrana should they blink. They will definitely score should the opportunity present itself. I think they’ll against the Spanish side’s vulnerable defence…At least one goal which will make life more difficult for Barca.
Barcelona are seemingly primed for a win here but I don’t think they will make it.
RECOMMENDED BETS: GG & 2.5 or 1X & over 2.5