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Sunday, 20 January, 2019

Old Lady to edge clash of Euro titans

Juventus can strike first blow

Gonzalo Higuain (right) is in great form for Juve
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Champions League last-16 first leg
BT Sport 3, 7.45pm

Two sides who feel invincible meet at the Estadio do Dragao and Juventus can extend their perfect Champions League away record by clinching a crucial victory.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side topped Group H with 14 points and won all three road trips to Dinamo Zagreb, Lyon and Seville.

Porto away will be every bit as tough as that assignment in Seville, but Juve can do no wrong and have the tactics and the personnel to land a significant blow in their quest to progress.

These are two big teams in top nick. Porto have won six in a row domestically and while the Portuguese top flight isn’t the strongest, that sequence does include a 2-1 success over Sporting.

Juve have won seven in a row and are seven points clear in the defence of their Serie A title.

Clearly strong at any venue, the Old Lady have won 29 consecutive league games at home, but their away record is no less impressive. They’ve lost only one of their last 11 away Champions League ties inside 90 minutes and they’ve failed to score in only one away game since March.

Allegri has a solid defensive platform to build from – the last line is 39-year-old Gianluigi Buffon who seems to be playing as well as ever – with Dani Alves added to it to bring even more top-level experience.

The Sami Khedira-Miralem Pjanic axis in midfield continues to impress and the partnership up front between Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain is as good as any pairing Juve have had for years. Higuain has 22 goals for the season, Dybala ten.

They defend from the front – Mario Mandzukic’s work ethic is as insatiable as it ever was at Bayern – and they will happily soak up everything Porto can throw at them.

The hosts are a 13-5 chance and coach Nuno Espirito Santo has a big call or two to make.

They’ve been very good in recent weeks after a fairly ordinary group campaign in which they struggled to shake off Copenhagen in their race to finish second behind Leicester.

They like to attack but the clever money is on Nuno Espirito packing an extra body in midfield rather than fielding Andre Silva and new boy Tiquinho together up front.

And Porto know how to mix it up. They are happy to sit tight and operate on the counter and seven 0-0 draws this season illustrate two things – not all their games are fun to watch and first choice frontman Andre Silva frustratingly continues to blow hot and cold.

Given the Portuguese side’s collection of stalemates and the fact that Juve won’t be taking many risks, it’s clear to see why the layers go 8-15 under 2.5 goals.

These sides are in great form but there is a lot of mutual respect and Porto know they’ll have to match the Italians in every department.

They are good at home – they’re unbeaten at their own fortress since April – and the draw could well be a popular call. Bear in mind, however, that Juve have not drawn an away game since a 2-2 at Bayern in March last year.


1pt 13-10 general

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Teams news
Porto are at full strength. Coach Nuno Espirito has to decide between Andre Silva or Tiquinho up front if he opts to play an extra midfielder alongside Danilo.

Veteran defender Andrea Barzagli (thigh) is a doubt but Giorgio Chiellini, who also had a knock, is expected to start. Leonardo Bonucci could be dropped after a fallout with manager Max Allegri at the weekend.

Key stat
Juventus haven’t failed to score in a match since a 1-0 defeat to Milan in October


They’ve lost only one of their last 11 away Champions League ties inside 90 minutes and they’ve failed to score in only one away game since March
E.W. Terms
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