Barcelona v Juventus

Thursday April 20, 4:45am AEST


Barcelona

Ten of the 11 players that started in Barcelona’s 2015 Champions League final triumph against Juventus can be expected to start on Wednesday night. That stat adds to the feeling that this team – the most dominant force in Europe over the last decade – has stagnated and is reaching the end of its era.

This season would have looked mightily different for Barca had they not pulled off that incredible comeback against PSG last month. The league title is slowly but surely slipping away and with manager Luis Enrique leaving in the summer, there is a lot of uncertainty around the club.

Saturday at least saw a return to winning ways, with Lionel Messi scoring twice and then setting up Paco Alcacer in victory over Real Sociedad. With the famous MSN strike trio, scoring goals is rarely the problem for Barca, but conceding them certainly is. The defence, which let in two against La Real, looks creaky and has kept just two clean sheets in 15 games.

Sergio Busquets returns for this one after serving a one game suspension in the Champions League.


Juventus

A game against Serie A’s bottom-placed club on Saturday allowed Juve boss Max Allegri to rest his entire back five – Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Dani Alves, Alex Sandro and Gigi Buffon. While that looked like a shrewd move by the 49-year-old as the Italian champions eased past Pescara 2-0, an injury picked up by Paulo Dybala – the architect of the 3-0 win in Turin last week – must have been giving him sleepless nights. Although the Argentine was a doubt for this tie, he trained with the squad on Monday and noises coming out of the club about his involvement are positive.

With a sixth consecutive league title all but wrapped up and a Coppa Italia final lined up for early June, Juve’s full attention can now turn to the Champions League. Key to that will be the continued form of Dybala and that of forward Gonzalo Higuain who has turned around a dry spell in front of goal to net six in his last four appearances.


Match Odds

Juve head into Camp Nou with a slimmer advantage than PSG did before that 6-1 thrashing but the Italians are more streetwise than their Parisian counterparts. The Bianconeri have won all four away games in the Champions League this season and have conceded just 20 goals in 32 Serie A matches.

With a three-goal advantage over Barca, Allegri’s side are understandably 1.16 favourites to qualify.

Nevertheless, Barcelona are on a 15-game winning streak at home in this competition and while I do not expect them to be able to quite repeat their heroics against PSG, they should be able to win on the night by a goal or two. Juve will have to strike a balance between containing the hosts, but not being so defensive that they just end up camped inside their own box. Barca are 1.56 to win on the night, the draw is 4.80 and a win for the visitors can be backed at 6.40.


Over/Under 2.5 Goals

While Juve are famed for their defensive solidity, the twin threat of Higuain and Dybala up top means they are always a good bet to get on the scoresheet. At the other end of the pitch we know that we only need to see a good half an hour from the likes of Messi, Luis Suarez or Neymar and Barca could easily score two or three.

Over 2.5 goals – as has happened in eight of Barcelona’s nine Champions League games this term – looks almost a certainty at 1.53, particularly with the hosts knowing they need at least three and Juve knowing that just one for them makes Barca’s job so much tougher thanks to the away goals rule. It may even be tempting to consider over 3.5 goals at 2.28.

To combine the two expected outcomes of a home win and lots of goals, odds of around 1.95 on the exchange Barcelona/Over 2.5 Goals looks a decent bet.


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Barcelona/Over 2.5 Goals at 1.95


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