Juventus vs Barcelona: European rivalry is just one match up that could breathe new life into tired Champions League

Adam Hurrey
Juventus' forward Gonzalo Higuain will go up against Barca's Lionel Messi in the Champions League - AFP

First the neutrals will switch off, then possibly even the schadenfreude-fuelled Spurs fans, but the appeal of Bayern Munich and Barcelona taking turns to fling Arsenal helplessly out of the last 16 of the Champions League will inevitably wear off.

Juventus and Barcelona meet in the Champions League quarter-finals, with predictable talk of revenge on the agenda after Luis Suarez and Neymar eventually swept Juve aside in the final two years ago. Before that, they’d been drawn together just twice in 60 years.

Even with that recent slice of previous, there’s a genuine novelty to the match-up. They are, quite simply, two teams you just don’t associate with each other too often, going about their domestic domination and subsequent European campaigns with paths almost never crossing. There are no Russian-dubbed YouTube videos of Alessandro Del Piero arcing a free-kick over the head of Pep Guardiola or viral gifs of Lionel Messi dinking the ball past an uncharacteristically powerless Gianluigi Buffon. This one feels fresh and relatively unencumbered by narratives or omens.

There are other examples of established European cruiserweights and heavyweights whose plastics balls have been kept apart rather too often given their consistent progress. Barcelona and Ajax, whose historical boom-and-bust periods perhaps never quite synchronised despite their philosophical ties of Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Louis van Gaal and the rest - had to wait until 2013 to get stuck into each other in a meaningful fixture.

Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, meanwhile, have only been pitted together once competitively - in the largely ceremonial Super Cup of 1998 (then an unnecessarily two-legged affair before Uefa realised a few days in Monte Carlo every August might be fun). For the record, that is the same number of times Barcelona have played Brazil. Take a look, enjoy the rare-as-hen’s-teeth spectacle of fluorescent yellow against blue-red:

Dortmund, in turn, are yet to bump into Paris Saint-Germain at a Champions League party, having only shared small talk in the Europa League in 2010, which might as well be a lifetime ago in their evolutionary cycles. There are plenty of new mini-sagas to be written in the hefty, dog-eared volumes of the Champions League (née European Cup).

When Chelsea return from their self-inflicted but restorative 12-month sabbatical from Europe’s top table - and presuming they negotiate the group-stage inconvenience of the APOELs and Copenhagens of this world - it might be refreshing to see them spared yet another of the sort of tense affairs with PSG or Barcelona that keeps central European referees awake at night for weeks afterward. Instead, for the first time since the 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup final, let’s see what new mutual wounds they can open with Real Madrid or - again - Dortmund, whose all-pervading Schwarzgelb makes for a eye-catching contrast with almost any other European big shot.

Chelsea v Dortmund

International football, plagued by the indifference of its friendly double-headers and England playing either Slovakia or Slovenia every year for eternity, has similar anomalies. In perhaps the most extreme example of this phenomenon, Germany and Brazil had won the World Cup seven times between them without having to stand and listen to each other’s national anthem at a tournament. The same fledgling head-to-head does demonstrate, though, how quickly associations can form: Ronaldo’s brace in the 2002 final was memorable enough, let alone the jaw-dropping 7-1 annihilation in Belo Horizonte 12 years later. They’ve played each other twice in nearly 90 years of Fifa’s showpiece event, and could conceivably be sick of the sight of each other already.

The gaps are being plugged by competitions that don’t depend on a middle-aged former Ballon d’Or winner plucking balls out of a glass bowl. The International Champions Cup has done its cynical, vacuous job of making new connections - Leicester’s trip to Stockholm to play Barcelona last summer felt about as surreal as their title win - but the intrigue there is generated mainly by new signings, new kits and unorthodox BST kick-off times at yawning (in both senses of the word) NFL stadiums.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Branislav Ivanovic fight for the ball

In the medium term, the relative newcomers to the Champions League trough are key to building the sort of high-grade knockout-stage grudges upon which the competition has relied. Manchester City could perhaps do without another live dissection from Barcelona, but their narrative canvas with the other usual suspects is mostly a blank one. Elsewhere, Monaco - and, more specifically, their current incarnation of youthful buccaneers - and PSG have plenty of time to marry familiarity with pan-Continental contempt.

Until then, some of Europe’s established superpowers have some overdue mutual history to write.

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