Match Previews

Premier League previews, 23-4/8/15

Sunday
West Brom v Chelsea, 13:30

That stat about Mourinho having lost to a load of managers who have names beginning with P is being brought up a lot right now, purely because he’s not doing well and he’s got some P’s on his plate. Going away to any Tony Pulis team is difficult, this much we know, but with the Baggies having lost to City and drawn with Watford in their opening pair of games Chelsea can at least feel happy they are not going up against a West Brom running at full speed, and might therefore edge it if it’s close.

West Brom forward Saido Berahino is set and Serge Gnabry is match fit again so could make his debut for the Baggies. Chelsea’s midweek £signing Pedro could make his debut, as could full-back Baba Rahman, but Victor Moses and Oscar are out with unspecified injuries.

Everton v Man City, 16:00

After a summer of trying to buy all the domestic talent they could, it is strange to think that journey never took Manchester City to Goodison Park, where the likes of James McCarthy, Ross Barkley and John Stones all play, but that is how things went. It looks now as though Chelsea will be the team to buy Stones, and City will rock up to the Park today as league leaders having demolished both West Brom and Chelsea, much to Mourinho’s chagrin, and after those two matches they’ll be expecting another win over an Everton side that only managed a draw with Watford on opening day.

Roberto Martinez has stressed he has no concerns about picking John Stones, while Muhamed Besic, Kevin Mirallas and Aiden McGeady are all fit again. Manchester City are expected to be unchanged, with Pablo Zabaleta facing up to a month out with a knee injury

Watford v Southampton, 16:00

The last match of today sees one of the new boys up against a team that has redefined just how well it is possible to do in your first few years in this division. Like Swansea before them, Southampton came up and took the league by storm, and this season they are also involved in the Europa League qualifiers as reward for all their hard work. They face Watford, who are winless after two draws in their first two matches, and although they are away from home you’d expect Southampton to have a good crack at winning this today.

Alessandro Diamanti could make his Watford debut, as could Miguel Britos and Giedrius Arlauskis and Nathan Ake. Southampton will assess their squad, but know Ryan Bertrand and Jordy Clasie are out with knee and hamstring problems respectively, while Fraser Forster is a long-term absentee.

Monday
Arsenal v Liverpool, 20:00

The final game of the weekend is one that was never going to be on at 3pm in a million years, as the television audience is just too massive to ignore. Expected to be fighting for a top four spot at the end of the season, Arsenal have actually started worse than their northern visitors in the league, sitting eleventh to the third place Liverpool enjoy, although a win today would take them level on points with the five-time European champions. From the Liverpool point of view this is a first big test after fortunate wins over Stoke and Bournemouth, and a game that could make or break this part of the year for Brendan Rodgers.

Liverpool are monitoring Jordan Henderson, but will definitely not be able to call on Jon Flanagan, Daniel Sturridge or Joe Allen. For Arsenal Jack Wilshere is out again, joining Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck in the treatment room.

Premier League previews, 22/8/15

Man Utd v Newcastle, 12:45

Although they don’t have to play on a Friday night this week, United still have the dubious honour of being the first team to take to the green grass on this lovely August weekend. As you can see if you look through the fixtures, a 3pm kick-off for any of United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool is a rare thing these days, but in exchange they get mountains of television money, which United have done a slightly better job investing this summer. Former Utd assistant Steve McLaren is going to be trying to get a win at his old home today, but if he does the credit will be tempered with criticism for the home team.

Marouane Fellaini is banned while Phil Jones remains absent and Marcos Rojo is not yet fit, but Bastian Schweinsteiger could make his first start for the Red Devils. Newcastle could give a debut to Florian Thauvin but defender Daryl Janmaat is banned, while Midfielder Moussa Sissoko is doubtful.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa, 15:00

Two of the top ten go head-to-head this afternoon with Palace looking down on their old-money guests in the table. A win over Norwich was followed by an unfortunate, if not unfair loss to Arsenal for the London side, while Villa have had a similar sort of journey over their first 180 minutes of Premier League football. Beating Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth was a nice way to start, and even a loss to United in the second game wasn’t awful, finishing as it did 1-0 to the super-spenders, so these two can both be please with their starts so far.

Crystal Palace have no new injury concerns , with only Julian Speroni and Marouane Chamakh not fit. Villa’s Jack Grealish could play for the first time this season, and Carles Gil and Adama Traore also could be involved.

Leicester v Spurs, 15:00

There has been a somewhat tedious run of Leicester games right at the top of the Match of the Day playlist this opening weeks of the season, maybe due to the fact that Gary Lineker is a fan, and with his old club Spurs the next team due at the King Power Stadium we could well be set for three on the spin. With the Foxes second in the table there is no reason they shouldn’t be featured, but after wins over Sunderland and West Ham this is going to be another level of test for Claudio Ranieri’s new team.

Leicester midfielder Gokhan Inler goes straight into the squad, with Matty James the only absentee. Tottenham striker Harry Kane has recovered from a tight calf, and while Andros Townsend will not feature new recruit Clinton Njie is available.

Norwich v Stoke, 15:00

After starting with a loss, Norwich City were fortunate to be drawn against Sunderland in their second game of the season and duly picked up the win that is looking increasingly free against the Black Cats. Their 3-1 loss to Palace on the opening weekend might suggest some frailty in their squad however, and today they will be tested by a Stoke side that has blended a rapier edge into their traditional sledgehammer approach since Mark Hughes took over from the pragmatic Tony Pulis and began to impose himself on the club.

Norwich manager Alex Neil could select the same starting line-up that beat Sunderland, as Kyle Lafferty, Youssouf Mulumbu and Martin Olsson remain on the sidelines. Mark Hughes says Xherdan Shaqiri will be involved and Marc Wilson could make his first appearance of the term, but Bojan is not likely to play.

Sunderland v Swansea, 15:00

If you were forced to put your money on which team is either going to get relegated or be forced into an early managerial change first this term, you would be hard-pressed to find a more convincingly useless team than Sunderland under Dick Advocaat. Their survival last season was teeth-skinning stuff, and losses to Leicester and Norwich so far haven’t done anything to make them more confident, so Swansea will probably be disappointed if they don’t go home with all three points today.

Sunderland head coach Dick Advocaat is expected to make changes, with Jordi Gomez nearing a return to fitness. Ki Sung-yueng is Swansea’s only fitness doubt with a hamstring injury he picked up in the draw at Chelsea.

West Ham v Bournemouth, 15:00

In this writer’s head, this is a match with Harry Redknapp all over it, although it’s been a long time since he was officially involved with either team in fairness, or even any team. Bournemouth are the newest and in some ways strangest addition to the Premier League, having never played at this level before, and despite some good performances to date they’ve faced two defeats in two games. They’ll be hoping for better refereeing than they got at Anfield, and if they get that then West Ham’s 2-1 loss to Leicester last week suggests there is a chance for the Cherries today.

West Ham’s Mauro Zarate suffered a hamstring injury in training, while Adrian is suspended. Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe has no new injury concerns, with Harry Arter (groin) the only long-term absentee. Shaun MacDonald has overcome a toe injury, while Sylvain Distin and Tyrone Mings await their debuts for the club.

Premier League previews, 17/8/15

Liverpool v Bournemouth, 20:00

The final game of a weekend that started on the Friday night sees Liverpool and Bournemouth meet for the first Anfield game of the season. Last week, Brendan Rodgers was fortunate to see his side win despite not having played all that well, mainly due to the brilliance of Coutinho, and he’ll be hoping for a more coherent performance today, but with the same result. With the money spent over the summer there is no doubt Rodgers has limited time too, and for that reason we might see some of the new signings tossed in early.

The main problem at Anfield seems to be Rodgers though, and there is something like £40m+ of talent he signed currently being wasted on the bench, or in the reserves. Bournemouth would love to have a player as talented as Moreno, Markovic or Balotelli, and their first game ended in a 1-0 defeat to Villa, suggesting a striker at least on the level of the latter might be really useful this term. Roberto Firmino is pushing to make his first Liverpool start, but Joe Allen has joined Daniel Sturridge and Jon Flanagan on the treatment table. Eddie Howe could hand summer signing Tyrone Mings his, but Harry Arter and loanee Christian Atsu are still nursing injuries and are unlikely to feature.

Premier League previews, 15/8/15

Southampton v Everton, 12:45

There are two kinds of teams in the transfer window, those who buy big, and those who sell big, and in recent years these two have mainly done the latter as they seek to improve their fortunes. This summer it is Everton complaining to the press about the bigger boys, but last year Southampton went through all that with Liverpool and got the prerequisite sympathy that comes with being given a giant cheque for one of your members of staff, and they both know the feeling. Today, the home side will want to win, but face an Everton with a lot of threats in their side, making this potentially the match of the weekend.

New signing Oriol Romeu may be given his Southampton debut but Jordie Clasie and Steven Caulker are unavailable, although there is some good news as their manager might be fit enough to attend. Everton midfielder Kevin Mirallas could be fit, but Leighton Baines is sidelined. Teenage defender Mason Holgate, signed from Barnsley while Everton bemoaned bigger clubs ‘stealing’ their players, could be in the squad.

Sunderland v Norwich, 15:00

Things looked so promising for Sunderland after their miraculous escape last year, but after just a few minutes of their opener it all went wrong and Lee Cattermole brought a slice of his own wonderful tackling technique to show off as well. Now they have a second chance to have a good start, with Norwich rocking up to the Stadium of Light and probably in the ‘beatable’ range for the home team, although both teams started the year with 2-goal defeats to ‘smaller’ sides, not exactly inspiring confidence.

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson, a man with far more serious problems than football, will be out for two months, Danny Graham is struggling for fitness and Jordi Gomez remains sidelined. Norwich will be without Youssouf Mulumbu, Martin Olsson and Kyle Lafferty, all through injury.

Swansea v Newcastle, 15:00

Swansea are the kind of well-run, likeable club that everyone not in the Chelsea/United league aspires to be, while Newcastle are pretty much swinging between a tragedy and a joke these days. A decent draw against Southampton spoke of some progress being made since Steve McClaren came to St James Park, but it is only when he’s been in position a few months that we’ll really know whether the owners are really going to back the manager they spent so much of last season chasing.

Ki Sung-Yeung is Swansea’s only injury doubt as Jordi Amat is fit. Newcastle’s Vurnon Anita could play but Emmanuel Riviere has undergone cartilage surgery, while Paul Dummett and Remy Cabella are not yet ready for first-team action.

Spurs v Stoke, 15:00

For a club that is traditionally the butt of a certain kind of joke, Stoke have made some very impressive headlines this week with the signing of one Xherdan Shaqiri, a man who looks a bit fat, but is actually a bit fast, and quite talented too. With the last of pace in the Tottenham squad it is almost surprising that they didn’t attempt to get in on a deal that cost around £15m for a player that has already been to World Cups and played for Bayern, and today we’ll see if they regret that lack of activity, and if Shaqiri can make a special entrance.

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino has a fully fit squad to choose from and could recall goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Danny Rose. Stoke’s club-record signing Xherdan Shaqiri is available, but Ryan Shawcross, Bojan and Peter Odemwingie miss out, whle Marko Arnautovic and Marc Wilson will both be assessed.

Watford v West Brom, 15:00

There were eleven different nationalities on show for Watford in their first Premier League game for a while last weekend, and that basically sums up the challenge for their manager this season. getting what is a talented but inexperienced group of players to gel and perform whilst they also learn the lessons of the Premier League is not going to be simple, but it is in games like this they must take advantage and pick up point if they want to spend more than a season in the top flight.

Watford midfielders Almen Abdi and Steven Berghuis are both fit but Miguel Britos and goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis are suspended. West Brom’s record signing Salomon Rondon and fellow summer recruit Serge Gnabry will be given fitness tests, and Gareth McAuley is back in the squad.

West Ham v Leicester, 15:00

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any harder to like Leicester after Nigel Pearson and the racist orgy in the off-season, perennial running-around-doing-nothing man Jamie Vardy goes and abuses someone who ‘dunt look like him’. While Claudio Ranieri seemed like an odd appointment at the time he was brought in, the likeable Italian will at least endear himself to the public in a way Pearson never could, and if his players keep behaving like they are he’ll need to do so. Today, they play a West Ham that are still some way from being the finished article, but with the game in London will still expect to beat the Foxes..

West Ham defender Carl Jenkinson is available and Pedro Obiang could make his league debut but Joey O’Brien, Andy Carroll and Enner Valencia remain sidelined. Leicester’s Matty James is out with a knee injury, and Jamie Vardy is expected to start despite being fined by the club for racist behaviour.

Premier League preview, 10/8/15

West Brom v Man City, 20:00

The last two teams we get to see play in the 2015/16 season are arguably two of the most interesting, with West Brom having made some strange moves over the summer and City certainly going in a new direction. So far the Mancunian club had purchase only a couple of players, but their focus has been on native talent with Raheem Sterling the apple of their collective eye, and there is a lot of pressure on the former Liverpool man from day one. As for the Baggies, James McClean is a real wildcard, but it is the rumour of Salomon Rondon that has really got the fans hyped up. With Chelsea drawing City have a chance to make an early mark if they get a good win, but that will need a strong performance, and Swansea showed you can’t slack on day one.

West Brom defender Joleon Lescott is doubtful but Rickie Lambert, James McClean and James Chester are set to make their debuts, although Serge Gnabry’s won’t as his loan wasn’t finalised in time. Manchester City duo Gael Clichy and Fabian Delph are out, but David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero are all fit and Sterling set for a debut.

Premier League previews, 9/8/15

Arsenal v West Ham, 13:30

A lovely London derby is choice A for your lunchtime viewing this Sunday, and if you’re a fan of the longer shot you might be looking at these two teams for different bets this year. Arsenal have a good squad that is maturing together, and in terms of being a very long shot for the title they have to be on the fringes of the conversation. West Ham, on the other hand, are a team that should be too good to go down, but with a new manager in place and one that has never taken charge of a Premier League game at that, they might not find things quite as simple as they’d like, and could end up fighting for survival come May of next year.

Petr Cech is set to make his Premier League debut for Arsenal after featuring in the Community shield, but Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck are out with injuries, and Alexis Sanchez will not feature as he regains fitness following an extended break. West Ham strikers Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll are both unavailable and Carl Jenkinson is ineligible to face his parent club, but Pedro Obiang, Winston Reid and Matt Jarvis could be involved.

Newcastle v Southampton, 13:30

Two managers with amusing-sounding Dutch accents might meet up this afternoon, although there are doubts over one of them attending, but more on that later. Newcastle absolutely stumbled and bumbled their way over the line under the leadership of John Carver last term, and need to do a whole lot better, but we recently saw a blue moon which forced the owner to at least spend a bit of money. As for Southampton, they’re something of the ‘hipster’ choice in the league right now, and for good reason, as coming into 2015/16 they look well-equipped to be in the top third of the table once more.

Newcastle may hand debuts to Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba, but have doubts over Fabricio Coloccini, while Cheick Tiote, Emanuel Riviere and Paul Dummett are unlikely to be fit. Southampton boss Ronald Koeman could be absent on Tyneside after rupturing his Achilles tendon, and likewise Jordy Clasie and Shane Long will be monitored, but Ryan Bertrand, Gaston Ramirez, Florin Gardos and Fraser Forster are all ruled out for sure.

Stoke v Liverpool, 16:00

When these two sides met on the last day of last term, it is fair to say Stoke didn’t really show much respect to outgoing Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard as they won 6-1, embarrassing the bigger team in the process. In fairness, most of last year and a percentage of the title challenge was spoiled by Gerrard’s importance vs his ability, but now the Anfield club starts a season without their long-serving captain for the first time in many years, and it’s a big one at that. Outside of the Suarez era, Brendan Rodgers has achieved very little as manager, and after spending big again this summer he needs a really fast start to stay safe.

Stoke will be without captain Ryan Shawcross for at least two months, and while Bojan could make his comeback from a knee injury Marko Arnautovic and Marc Wilson are doubtful. Liverpool trio Daniel Sturridge, Joe Allen and Jon Flanagan are out, but they might be debuts for Christian Benteke, Nathaniel Clyne, Roberto Firmino and Joe Gomez.

Premier League previews, 8/8/15

Manchester United v Spurs, 12:45

A lot of United fans were hoping they might be able to enjoy Gareth Bale, or maybe even a Ronaldo at the club this season, but the outrageous spending of last summer hasn’t quite been replicated as experience and solidity have been added to the team. The challenge may end up being scoring enough goals this term for Louis Van Gaal’s team, as a couple of forwards have left the club without being replaced like-for-like. Tottenham have the same ambition as always, but have had a more stable summer than is usual to some extent, although they wouldn’t be Spurs if they didn’t have a few new faces to enjoy.

The Manchester United manager has to choose how quickly he throws Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger into his first eleven, having already made clear that Matteo Darmian starts the season in the first eleven. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is unlikely to start as he continues his comeback from a fractured wrist. Spurs have a lot of new faces at the back, with Toby Alderweireld’s controversial transfer meaning he joins Austrian centre-back Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier at White Hart Lane this year.

Bournemouth v Aston Villa, 15:00

The first of the new boys to greet us really is new to this division, as Bournemouth have never played in the Premier League and are something of a surprise with their presence. There seems to be a mystical link between Eddie Howe and the club, and his ability to guide them this far is a sign of talent he will surely be asked to employ elsewhere if this season goes well, but it will be a challenge to stay up. Villa passed that test under Tim Sherwood in the latter stages, but have seen some key men depart and will need to gel quickly to avoid the same sort of struggle.

Max Gradel, Lee Tomlin and Sylvain Distin could start for Bournemouth on Saturday, but Harry Arter will miss the club’s top-flight debut and loanee Christian Atsu is a doubt. New Aston Villa captain Micah Richards, Jordan Amavi and Idrissa Gueye will probably start for Villa, but the game may come too soon for Jack Grealish, Carles Gil, Carlos Sanchez and Jores Okore, who is out after knee surgery.

Everton v Watford, 15:00

At this point in time, Everton have all of their best players still at the club, and if they can fend off Chelsea for John Stones and persuade Kevin Miralles to sign a new deal it will have been a great summer for a team that is maturing together. Watford know this will be a difficult day, and with the owners notoriously happy to hire and fire managers the pressure is on their boss from day one, but they will be pumped up having spent a long time away from the top flight of English football. James McCarthy and Ross Barkley need to have big seasons for the Toffees, but if they do this might be a special campaign.

Everton will assess Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu, but Steven Pienaar and Muhamed Besic are among the confirmed absentees. Watford have made 10 new signings but are likely to be without injured pair Almen Abdi and Steven Berghuis, while Miguel Britos is suspended.

Leicester v Sunderland, 15:00

Although both of these teams stayed up last year after initially looking doomed, only one of them was expected to have the same manager this year, as Dick Advocaat and Sunderland came to a short-term agreement for the latter half of 2014/15. As it turns out, Leicester and Nigel Pearson fell out, and Advocaat was persuaded to come back to the Black Cats for one final year, so Claudio Ranieri will take charge of a Premier League side for the first time in over a decade. Since leaving Chelsea, the ‘tinkerman’ has rarely stayed more than a couple of years at most at any club, and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the squad Pearson left him to inherit. Today is a chance to start with a win though, and one he’ll be keen for his side to take.

Claudio Ranieri will assess the fitness of new signings N’Golo Kante and Yohan Benalouane, while Christian Fuchs and Shinji Okazaki could make their debuts. Sunderland’s latest signing Yann M’Vila is unlikely to play but Jeremain Lens, Younes Kaboul, Sebastian Coates and Adam Matthews may feature, although Wes Brown is a major doubt.

Norwich v Crystal Palace, 15:00

Although the bounce back wasn’t immediate for Norwich, the hiring of Alex Neil turned out to be a masterstroke and they find themselves at the big table for another pop at the Premier League. Hopefully this time the season will feature fewer embarrassing celebrities and more victories than when they were relegated, and they too have been given a decent home fixture against a talented but still not unbeatable Palace. However, Alan Pardew has made some very good signings this summer, and with Yohan Cabaye, Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie on board he’ll still fancy his own chances of three points on match day one.

Norwich are without summer signing Youssouf Mulumbu who fractured a metatarsal during pre-season. Martin Olsson is still recovering from shoulder surgery but Robbie Brady and loanee Andre Wisdom could make their debuts for the club. Crystal Palace newcomers Yohan Cabaye and Connor Wickham are fit to play but Marouane Chamakh is injured. Goalkeeper Julian Speroni has a finger injury so either Wayne Hennessey or new signing Alex McCarthy will start.

Chelsea v Swansea, 17:30

The defending champions have a potentially tricky start to their campaign, at home against a Swansea team that are capable of playing fluently and intelligently when the holders aren’t quite at the races yet. On the other hand, Jose Mourinho has made himself very rich and famous by always preparing as best as he possibly can, and will want to see his side start the season as they mean to go on. It hasn’t been a summer for Chelsea to really break the bank yet with only Begovic and Falcao coming in, the latter on loan from Monaco, and it will be interesting to see if the manager is happy to go forward with the player he has, particularly in attack, as they look a little bit light right now.

Diego Costa remains a fitness doubt for Chelsea which could see Loic Remy or Radamel Falcao feature today. Jordi Amat is Swansea City’s only doubt , with new signing Andre Ayew is likely to start but fellow newcomers Kristoffer Nordfeldt, Franck Tabanou and Eder expected to be among the substitutes.

Community Shield preview, 2/8/15

Arsenal v Chelsea, 15:00

It’s that time of the year again, where the season is only days away and we need a quick match to remind us what football in England looks like. We don’t want the fully-serious, pressure-laden kind of action that the Champions League or end of the season might provide, but by the same token we’re bored of meaningless pre-season games against Asian and American teams too, so it is extremely convenient to have the FA Community Shield as a buffer to ease us back into the swing of things.

Just as in the normal season, the summer has contained moans, groans, and yawns in Chelsea press conferences from the members of the media not still feeding from the rear end of Jose Mourinho like some kind of human centipede of football bullshit. Arsenal and Chelsea are the protagonists set to contest the most important match of the day (probably), and so far neither club has made any really significant moves to suggest this will look different to their meetings last season, so this will be a game of new kits but maybe old looks at these two sides.

There is Petr Cech of course, relegated to the Chelsea bench last season but now set to start for Arsenal, who have finally admitted they need to improve that position, and he might make a difference in a really close game. 2010 is the last time the winners of this game went on to take a major title at the end of the year, so by extrapolating backwards we should therefore assume that Arsenal are going to win the Community Shield as Chelsea are favourites for the league title. Oh, and Wenger has never won a game vs Mourinho either.

Slovenia v England preview, 14/6/15

Slovenia v England, 17:00

While they may not have achieved anything in tournament, the team Roy Hodgson has assembled in his time as England manager has done everthing Fabio Capello’s did at a fraction of the contractual cost so far, namely making it to the finals of a major tournament. With one game left in their 2014/15 season the national side is currently undefeated and sit atop Group E, having won five games and conceded only one goal, so on the face of it things are pretty rosy. A win tonight would guarantee them a six-point buffer with four games remaining, and pretty much secure second at the very least in their group.

However, a cursory glance at the group shows that Slovenia, the home side this evening, are the side in second place with Switzerland third, while the bottom three nations are some of the minnows that bigger sides always love to be drawn against. Still, you can only beat what is in front of you, and tonight it looks as though Hodgson will keep faith in Raheem Sterling as part of his attempt to do so. Wayne Rooney is a couple of goals back on Bobby Charlton’s record, but it is unlikely he’ll get them in what should be a challenging away game.

England squad: Hart, Jones, Cahill, Smalling, Bertrand, Henderson, Wilshere, Milner, Sterling, Rooney, Lallana, Gibbs, Green, Walcott, Jagielka, Delph, Townsend, Austin, Cleverley, Barkley, Vardy, Clyne, Heaton

Champions League final preview, 6/6/15

Juventus v Barcelona, 19:45

The last hurrah of the 2014/15 season in Europe is of course the Champions League final, to be held in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, and we have at least one of the usual suspects on board for this particular glitterball of a game. Juventus are looking to spoil the Barcelona party and crown themselves the best team in Europe, with some justification, but it is definitely fair to say that the majority are expecting the record-breaking trio up front for the Spanish side to be the difference this evening and take the title back to Catalonia. Although Barcelona have many games against Italian clubs under their belt over the last few years they are going in blind, as interestingly almost all of those were against the Milan clubs, with this the first meeting between this pair in over a decade.

Both teams are chasing a treble overall after Barcelona wrapped up the domestic cup against Bilbao in what was a bad-tempered game but dominant display from the Spanish giants, with Juventus getting their title sorted out a little earlier, and maybe being able to rest players as a result. Barcelona are going for their fifth European Cup/Champions League trophy, with three of the previous four coming between 2005 and 2010, when first Frank Rijkaard and then Pep Guardiola managed the team, while Juventus are aiming for their third title at this level and first since the 1995/96 team of Deschamps, Del Piero and Vialli. While the Italian club has lost a record five finals, the pair have never met at this stage of the competition before, with the last meeting a 2003 semi-final that Juve won after extra time.

Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini will not face Barcelona after being ruled out through injury. Romulu will also miss out along with Martin Caceras, who is recuperating from a broken ankle, but Stefan Lichtsteiner will delay ankle surgery to play this evening. Barcelona have named Andres Iniesta in their squad although there were concerned after he tweaked a muscle in the Copa del Rey final, but the magical midfielder is their only injury worry after Luis Suarez returned from a hamstring problem, with Xavi set to make his farewell appearance before leaving his boyhood club.