It has not been the best of starts for Andrea Pirlo and Ronald Koeman after they both took on their dream roles this summer.
Koeman was drafted in to replace Quique Setien as Barcelona head coach following the 8-2 humiliation to Bayern Munich in August, while Pirlo was the somewhat shock appointment at Juventus after Maurizio Sarri was dismissed that same month following their Champions League exit to Lyon.
Some two months later, both Koeman and Pirlo have quickly learned the size of their respective tasks, and perhaps already realised the flaws which ultimately led to their predecessors’ abrupt dismissals.
Barca and Juve are struggling. In the league they are both faltering after five games each. Barca are 12th in La Liga after two wins, a draw and two defeats – including the 3-1 loss to rivals Real Madrid at the weekend - while Juve are fifth in Serie A after two wins - one as a result of Napoli forfeiting a game due to coronavirus concerns - and three draws, most recently drawing 1-1 at home with Hellas Verona on Sunday.
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It means, in Europe, they are both now deemed, rightly, outsiders for the Champions League.
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
Image credit: Imago
Champions League favourites and outsiders
Holders Bayern Munich are this season’s favourites. Manchester City and Liverpool are closely behind the German champions, while the bookies have last season’s losing finalists Paris Saint-Germain as the fourth most likely side to win the Champions League.
Then you have Barca and Juve – five years on from their 2015 meeting in the final – alongside Real Madrid at odds of around 14-1 or 16-1.
Barca have reached at least the quarter-finals every season since their 2015 win, but with collapses at Roma and Liverpool preceding the Bayern embarrassment there are serious doubts that an ageing (everyone’s ageing, we know) Lionel Messi will lift another Champions League so long as he remains at the Nou Camp.
For Juve, since a 2017 final defeat to Real Madrid they have not passed the quarter-finals, and the last-16 exit to Lyon back in August highlighted just how far they are from becoming Champions League winners. Even with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Juve players react during their 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona
Image credit: Getty Images
Juve now host Barca without Ronaldo after the forward tested positive for Covid-19, and while that delays the Messi-Ronaldo showdown until the reverse group fixture in December, fitness permitting, this Wednesday’s meeting will still have huge implications as the clubs battle to finish top of Group G.
In this world of trigger-happy chairmen and owners, it does not even seem too far-fetched to suggest that come December 12 – when Barca host Juve at the Nou Camp – one of Koeman or Pirlo (or both?) may not even be in a job.
Patience is not a virtue present at such clubs, given both have sacked title-winning managers in the past, and so if their indifferent starts to the season continue then there is every chance an early dismissal is possible.
It means Wednesday’s match already feels like a must-win game. Both teams need to lay down a marker, not just in Group G, but to outline their potential as Champions League contenders and prove their early-season form is merely a blip.
Bar a draw, one coach will sample the joy of a timely victory – the other will undoubtedly find their job under further scrutiny. It makes for an enticing clash.