Juventus' mental strength to face the ultimate test at the Camp Nou
When it comes to the Champions League, every pundit, critic and fan is often asked which team would win the tie overall. When it came to Juventus vs. Barcelona, many opined the Italians would win the home leg but could lose the overall tie -- such is the power of the Camp Nou.
Those who watch Juventus on a day to day basis were quick to point out the beauty of Massimiliano Allegri's side. Talented, balanced and defensively capable, the team is presided over by a coach renowned for his tactical intelligence. Creating a tactically versatile side that no longer looks to react but take the initiative, the one question mark many had over the power of this team surrounded their mental strength.
Blessed with champions in all areas of the pitch, Juve have thrashed several of their opponents with remarkable ease in recent years but when it came to facing the big boys of Europe, they trembled. One need only remember the two matches against Bayern Munich last season to see how fear stopped the side from winning a winnable match.
Prior to the Barcelona match last week, the Italians assured the world they have grown psychologically and were confident of their power to compete at the highest level. As they took to the field armed with their most offensive players, Juventus played to their potential and comprehensively defeated a Catalan side that looked lost for ideas and terribly overwhelmed at the back.
Finally, it seemed Juve were back to playing like the Juve of old in Europe. Much of the credit goes to Allegri for while his tactical intelligence knows no bounds, it his faith in the players that earned him the title of genius. By starting so many offensive stars and playing an ambitious brand of football, Allegri showed no fear which in turn inspired confidence in the players. A cautious lineup may well have signified that he doesn't trust his side to play in equal terms against one of the best in Europe.
And so Juventus outwitted a team that has been relentlessly complimented in recent years. Earning two quick goals further helped the players to believe in themselves. This was a side that scored four past Bayern Munich last season and now they boast an even more impressive squad so why couldn't they destroy a team that has lost to the likes of Malaga and Deportivo La Coruna this season?
However, feeling confident at home in front of their own fans is one thing, but will the Bianconeri withstand the pressure and the hostility with which teams are treated to in the Camp Nou?
There are few stadiums in the world capable of inspiring awe as well as Barca's. A fortress that has witnessed so much success, opponents feel intimidated as soon as they set foot on the pitch and can lose the game before a ball has even been kicked. Home to a club that has produced one of the greatest footballing sides ever seen, the history of this successful club can be felt in each blade of grass.
Inferior teams will be terrified and proceed to lose much like Paris Saint-Germain and a hundred others have managed before them but Juventus are deemed better and stronger than those opponents and most importantly equal in historical and sporting terms to Barcelona.
If the Old Lady takes to the pitch with plans to protect her lead then she will be defeated, even with that brilliant backline but should she play with ambition and extol the virtues of her talented players, she will progress and Allegri seems intent on ensuring his side take the initiative.
The first 20 minutes of the match will be crucial. A timid start could inspire Barca's confidence but if Juve play with intensity and aggression from the first moment, they will set the tone for a real battle and frustrate an opponent that struggles to adapt as swiftly as it once did.
With Sergio Busquets back in the side, we expect Barcelona to play a more balanced game, controlling proceedings in a more efficient manner in a reported 3-4-3 formation. However, even the great defensive midfielder seems incapable of helping the side produce better defensive performances this season and Real Sociedad exposed those weaknesses with remarkable ease over the weekend. Had they been more clinical, they might have been celebrating an away win.
Paulo Dybala thankfully took part in a full training session and should be available to start alongside Gonzalo Higuain, who must prove he can produce in these huge European nights. While his hard work and sacrifice helped Juve win the first match as he dragged defenders away and created space for his teammates, his confidence and clinical efficiency will be heavily relied upon to help the team get over the finish line.
This is the match that will truly answer any questions people have over Juve's psychology and not just that of the players but of Allegri who lost to a Barcelona comeback before when he oversaw Milan. It will be up to the coach and his gifted players to prove they are what they say they are: an experienced team that has learnt their lessons and developed into a Champions League trophy contender.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.