2017 UCL Picks: Juve, Barca Open with Group Stage Dazzler

Photo credit: Biser Todorov (Wikimedia) CC License

Barcelona (-118) vs Juventus (+354), Draw (+294)

Justly or not, the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League finalists — Barcelona and Juventus — have been lumped together in the Group Stage this season. The first of their two Group Stage meetings will take place on Tuesday, September 12th, at the Camp Nou as Juve travel to Spain. 

Both clubs have started the season with six easy points, and their opening Champions League match will be their first true test of the season. Barcelona kicked off the season with comfortable wins over La Liga also-rans Real Betis (2-0) and Alavés (2-0), while Juve made easy work of Cagliari (3-0) and Genoa (4-2) in Serie A.

The summer transfer window left both clubs worse off. Juventus lost Leonardo Bonucci, one of the most reliable defenders in the game, and, of course, Barca lost Neymar for a record-breaking sum. Both sides made a few notable signings, but not enough to make up for their losses.

The two clubs last met in the quarterfinals of the Champions League last season when Juve thrashed Barca 3-0 in the first leg and shut them out 0-0 in the second. Paulo Dybala, who recently scored a hattrick during Juve’s 4-2 win over Genoa, scored two of Juve’s three goals in the series and ran circles around Barca’s defense. As usual, Barcelona dominated possession in both games (66% in the first leg, 61% in the second) but they weren’t able to do much with it. After the 3-0 beating, Juve took a no-nonsense approach to the second leg and smothered the match to a 0-0 deadlock.

 

 

Even without Bonucci and Dani Alves (who left for PSG), Juventus still have one of the strongest backlines in Europe.

Barcelona picked up Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé to replace Neymar, but the 20-year-old is a significant step down, at least for now. On top of that, there’s a ton of dysfunction in the Barca ranks. Both Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta are feuding with the Barcelona management, with Messi going as far as refusing to renew his contract.

Regardless of who Barcelona are playing at Camp Nou, they’ll always open as the favorite. But placing Juve at +354 both underestimates the Italian giants and downplays the issues with Barca. In the past, the dominance of Barca’s front three was enough to mask their weaknesses in midfield. But now with Neymar gone, their issues in midfield will become a little more obvious. If Juventus are able to capitalize on Barcelona’s flaws, the Champions League opener will be theirs for the taking.

Value pick: Juventus (+354)