Football: Barca will find Juve a hard nut to crack

Juventus right-back Dani Alves will have a point to prove to his former club, having spent eight seasons at Barcelona. Alves left Camp Nou under a cloud, and will be eager to get one over his former team-mates.
Juventus right-back Dani Alves will have a point to prove to his former club, having spent eight seasons at Barcelona. Alves left Camp Nou under a cloud, and will be eager to get one over his former team-mates.PHOTO: REUTERS

Former Barca right-back Alves has spiced up the clash, with criticism of his ex-club's board

MILAN • Dani Alves is known for standing up for his beliefs, and Juventus will expect nothing less from their "champion" right-back when they host his former club Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

A month after spectacularly overturning a 4-0 first-leg defeat by Paris Saint-Germain to prevail 6-5 on aggregate, Barcelona's Euro dream remains very much alive ahead of today's first leg in Turin.

Even if, as Juve fans noted on Saturday with a fair amount of glee, the LaLiga giants will lack their usual swagger following a shock 2-0 league reverse at Malaga in which Neymar suffered a rare sending off.

For Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri, who saw Alves get his hands on the 2015 trophy following a 3-1 defeat by Barcelona in the final, Saturday's defeat was a blip "not worth taking into consideration".

"For me, it's still the same Barcelona. When you have players like (Lionel) Messi, (Andres) Iniesta, (Luis) Suarez, and Neymar, you don't mess up games very often," he said.

Allegri, who has already faced Barcelona nine times and managed just one win, has called for a "fearless approach" as Juve look for a crucial first-leg advantage, writing on Twitter: "Calm, fearless and knowing what we're all about: coming next from Juve, a game that will leave all our fans in high spirits."

  • 9 European competition winners' medals won by Dani Alves.

But, when it comes to spooking the Spanish side, long-time Barca servant Alves would likely win hands down.

With a total of nine winners' medals, he became the second-most decorated player in European competitions, behind retired AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini, during an impressive eight-season stint at the Camp Nou.

Although causing general surprise by joining Juventus last summer, Alves defiantly laid bare his true feelings only two months ago in Spanish newspaper ABC.

The Brazilian claimed that he had been used as a pawn by a "false and ungrateful" Barcelona board before he took revenge by signing a renewal with a clause that allowed him the "classy stitch-up" of leaving the club for free.

"I like to be where I am wanted, and if I am not wanted then I'll leave," Alves said. "Over my last three seasons (at Barcelona) I always heard that Alves was leaving, although the directors never said anything to my face. They were very false and ungrateful. They didn't show me respect."

Incidentally, Alves's absence means he is likely to be one of just two changes from the Barca side that started the final against Juventus two years ago.

With Sergio Busquets suspended, Javier Mascherano is expected to get a rare outing in the holding midfield role he was more accustomed to before joining Barca in 2010.

Manager Luis Enrique will welcome both Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic back following suspension from the defeat at Malaga, while captain Andres Iniesta will also start after being left on the bench at the weekend.

Barcelona will count on their famed attack to make early inroads but they will come up against arguably the continent's best defence, based on the "BBC" line-up of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, underpinned by veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Juventus, well on course for a sixth successive Italian title, have conceded only two Champions League goals this season and just 20 in 31 Serie A games, making them tough to break down even for Barcelona's prolific trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2017, with the headline 'Barca will find Juve a hard nut to crack'. Print Edition | Subscribe