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Unpredictable Juventus run into in-form Barcelona

Turin: Juventus face Barcelona in their Champions League quarter final, first leg on Wednesday, a match in which there is little point looking to domestic form for a clue to the possible outcome.

Marcello Lippi’s Juventus lead Serie A by five points from Inter Milan — a margin that suggests their 27th title will not be long arriving.

The Italians’ form in Europe, however, has been less predictable. In the second group phase, back-to-back defeats by Manchester United were the prelude to a 1-2 loss to Swiss side Basel.

In contrast, Barcelona have been the most impressive side in this season’s Champions League, winning 13 and drawing one of their 14 games in the group stages and qualifying round.

Their form in the Spanish league, however, is another story.

A 0-2 defeat to Villarreal on Sunday left them marooned in mid-table, raising questions about how a team that performed so efficiently against the cream of Europe could play so dismally at home.

Despite his opponents’ devastating European form, Juventus coach Marcello Lippi said he was delighted to have been paired with them in the quarter finals. “It’s not just for technical reasons that I’m happy, but also because I’ve never faced Barcelona before in my career,” he said. “It will be a fascinating and exciting match.”

Lippi’s plans have been disrupted by a shoulder injury to French striker David Trezeguet, leaving his striking options limited as Chilean Marcelo Salas is also sidelined while Marco Di Vaio is not yet ready for a full 90 minutes.

Trezeguet’s regular partner, Alessandro Del Piero, has not yet regained his best form after returning from a two-month layoff. Uruguayan Marcelo Zalayeta is likely to partner Del Piero in attack, with Di Vaio poised to come off the bench if needed.

Influential Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved is carrying a thigh injury but trained on Monday and is hoping to be fit.

Barcelona coach Radomir Antic will make a late decision on the fitness of Dutch defender Frank de Boer after he twisted an ankle against Villarreal. Swedish international Patrik Andersson stands by.

Luis Enrique has been passed fit to rejoin the squad after a month out with a muscle tear and the influential former Spanish international could be called on as a substitute if needed.

The job of minding Nedved is likely to go to fast-improving Thiago Motta. “It’ll be difficult but I relish this sort of job,” the 20-year-old Brazilian said.

“He’s a great player but it will be good for me to be next to a player of his quality. He plays well with both feet and has a fierce shot. I’ll do everything to make sure he doesn’t have a good game.”

The teams have met in three previous two-legged European ties, with Juve successful in the 1970-71 Fairs Cup and the Spanish team going through in both the 1986 European Cup quarter finals and the 1991 Cup Winners’ Cup semis.

Testing time for Cuper

Inter Milan coach Hector Cuper meets his old club Valencia in the Champions League quarter final, first leg on Wednesday under mounting pressure because of his team’s faltering Serie A title bid.

Cuper was labelled a ‘nearly man’ in some quarters after his Valencia side lost the 2000 and 2001 Champions League finals and Inter squandered a chance to win the Italian title on the final day of last season.

There was an echo of the suicidal 2-4 loss to Lazio last May in the way Inter gave up a two-goal lead in the last seven minutes to draw 3-3 with AS Roma on Sunday.

With the Valencia game followed by the Milan derby on Saturday, Inter’s season and Cuper’s future may depend on two positive results.

If the likeable coach needed any reminding of that, Italian newspapers speculated on Tuesday about likely replacements for the Argentine should his team falter.

With Juventus now five points clear of Inter in Serie A, the Champions League may be the Milan club’s best hope of providing their success-starved president Massimo Moratti with the silverware he craves.

“It is another game, another competition. There is no five points difference in the Champions League,” said Cuper, who has mixed news on the injury front.

Uruguayan striker Alvaro Recoba has a painful foot injury and missed training on Monday, but Marco Materazzi returns to the heart of the defence alongside Fabio Cannavaro with Ivan Cordoba likely to switch to left back.

Hernan Crespo, who has scored nine goals in eight Champions League appearances this season but is just returning to fitness, is likely to start from the bench should Recoba recover.

Valencia have a reputation for cautious tactics away from home but they have ruled out playing for a draw in the first leg. “We’ll be going there to win,” said Spanish international winger Vicente. “We know how difficult it is to win away to an Italian team but that will be the objective, to give ourselves a cushion for the return.

“There’s no chance of us playing for a draw.”

Miguel Angel Angulo said the side would go into the game with thoughts of revenge after Inter knocked them out of last season’s UEFA Cup.

“This game is not just important because it’s in the quarter finals of the Champions League,” said Angulo. “We also have to think about the fact that they knocked us out of Europe last year and we have to try to do the same to them. The best way to forget last season’s defeat will be to beat them at the San Siro.”

Full back Curro Torres and Argentine winger Kily Gonzalez are on the long-term injury list, while Mauricio Pellegrino’s suspension means Carlos Marchena partnering Roberto Ayala in central defence.

Coach Rafa Benitez has no new injury worries, though, and he welcomes back midfielder Ruben Baraja from suspension.

That is likely to mean Norwegian striker John Carew, who scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Arsenal that clinched Valencia’s quarter final place, playing as a lone striker ahead of a five-man midfield led by Pablo Aimar.

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