Match Preview: FC Barcelona v. Juventus Barça starts off the Champions League group stage with a mouth-watering fixture.

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The Fixture

The Blaugrana begin their 2017-18 Champions League campaign with a massive game against the team that knocked them out of the competition in the quarterfinals last season. Juventus held Barcelona scoreless across two legs last season, with Paulo Dybala scoring two crucial goals in Turin to give Juve license to park the bus at the Nou Camp. Barça will hope swift revenge is in order as the Old Lady returns to Catalonia.

The Opponent

After three match days in Italy, Juventus find themselves in familiar territory at the top of the Seria A table with three wins. Napoli and Inter have matched their record and are only a goal behind on goal difference, but nonetheless we have an early season matchup between the top team in Spain and the top team in Italy. Perhaps now is a decent time to play Juventus, though, for they will be missing a few key players for this match.

Juve will be without Giorgio Chiellini, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio, Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic while Ernesto Valverde should have his full complement of players available now that Sergi Roberto has recovered from his slight knock. The absence of Chiellini, particularly after the club sold Leonardo Bonucci to Milan during the summer, will be crucial, but Massimiliano Allegri does have solid alternatives elsewhere for his missing players.

Douglas Costa has come over from Bayern Munich and can play on the wing in place of Cuadrado, former Fiorentina winger Federico Bernadeschi can fill in for Mandzukic and Blaise Matuidi has joined from PSG and can replace Khedira in holding midfield. Juve’s final signing of the window, centerback Benedikt Höwedes from Schalke, is not yet ready to debut for the bianconeri, so Allegri is likely to rely on a center back pairing of Benatia and Barzagli.

Aside from Bonucci and the excluded players, Dani Alves is the big miss from the Juventus side that eliminated Barcelona from the Champions League last season. Mattia De Sciglio has come from Milan to replace him, but he has yet to feature in league play. He is a good bet to start his first game for Juve in this match, though, because veteran Stephan Lichtsteiner, who has been starting in Serie A play, was left out of the Champions League squad.

Crucially, Juventus held onto Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro despite heavy interest from Barcelona and Chelsea, respectively, so they still have the foundation for a Champions League contender in place. Stragely enough, with Chiellini out, Bonucci gone and De Sciglio making his first start, Juve’s weakest unit on Tuesday night might be their defense, but of course the Old Lady still has Gianluigi Buffon in goal to rescue the team if needed.

Juventus will likely line in a 4-2-3-1 with Pjanic and Matuidi holding, Costa and Bernadeschi wide and Dybala playing behind Higuain. That is an attack that will present a fresh set of problems for a Barça defense that has kept three consecutive clean sheets. Juventus will also present a tough test in the middle of the park, and it will be interesting to see if Barcelona can keep up their fantastic form against formidable opposition. Things didn’t go so well against Real Madrid in the Super Copa, but the Blaugrana have looked much more comfortable in La Liga play, and this fixture offers Ernesto Valverde a litmus test of just how far his squad has really come in a month’s time.

The Selection

I’ve gone for Barcelona’s best XI in their biggest game of the young season. The only point of contention with this team is whether Valverde will pick a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation, which has an impact on whether Gerard Deulofeu or Andres Iniesta plays on the left side of midfield. Given that Iniesta played 162 minutes during the international break and another 77 minutes on Saturday, I think he would be best used as an impact sub in this match. Other than that, this is a pretty undisputed selection of the best possible team.

Whether Valverde should have started the Gala XI minus Dembélé against Espanyol on the heels of an international break and with this fixture coming up so soon after is up for debate, but for now you can’t argue with the result. If the team looks a bit gassed in the second half of this match, that would change things (for Juve, only six players who started on Saturday against Genoa are traveling to Barcelona).

I suppose Dembélé starting on the bench again for this match would make some sense, but I tend not to think rationally in terms of easing him in and just want to see him play in this big game right away. I don’t think anyone would blame him if he was a bit off kilter in a game like this, and his energy and creativity with the ball gives Barcelona something different that they might need against a defensive powerhouse like Juve.

The final omissions for me were Roberto and Andre Gomes. With Roberto it is simply a matter of wanting him to be 100 percent rather than rushing him back; if he is legitimately good to go, then he would take Denis Suarez’s place in the team for me. Gomes is still an enigma, but he looked bright in his cameo against Espanyol and at some point I’d like him to show us something in a big game (because it definitely didn’t happen last season), but I don’t think this is the best spot for him (though there is that interesting wrinkle of Juve supposedly not wanting him this summer).

I’ve selected Denis Suarez instead of those two because if Deulofeu and Dembélé start, he is the last natural wide player left, plus I thought he was unfairly left out in the Catalan Derby. Depending on the context of the match, Iniesta or Paulinho could be obvious subs. If Barcelona need a creative spark, Iniesta is the man; if they need to shut the game down, let Paulinho come in and work his socks off for 15-20 minutes. Denis would be the wildcard, though Roberto can also fill that role if he is picked.

The Prediction

2-1, Barcelona.

Mark Travis is a 23-year old sportswriter who recently graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science in Sports Media. He started his own website, But The Game Is On, in 2008 as an outlet for his praise of Michael Crabtree and has since been credentialed by major organizations like the NBA, NFL, MLB, Nike and Team USA Basketball. He also covered the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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