20.02.2017 17:00 - in: UCL S

      #FCPJuve: key names and numbers

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      The main facts and figures to note ahead of Wednesday night’s Champions League last 16 first leg between Porto and Juventus at the Estadio Do Dragao
      Group stage story

      Collecting 14 points from a possible 18, Juventus qualified for the knockout stages as Group H winners and also as the only side of this Champions League campaign to win all three of their away games.

      The Bianconeri’s dominance on the road began with a comprehensive 4-0 victory in September against Dinamo Zagreb, featuring a piledriver from Paulo Dybala as well as clever finishes from Miralem Pjanic and Gonzalo Higuain before Dani Alves’ deflected free-kick late on added the icing on the cake.

      Perhaps predictably, the subsequent outings would be considerably more challenging, October’s 1-0 triumph in Lyon requiring no shortage of magic at both ends of the pitch: Gianluigi Buffon proved once again that he was Superman personified, making three world-class saves to deny Alexandre Lacazette from the penalty spot, Nabil Fekir’s drive – deviating wickedly off Andrea Barzagli – and Corentin Tolisso from point-blank range.

      While Gigi was holding on to a stunning clean sheet, Juan Cuadrado made sure of maximum points rifling into the top corner from the acutest of angles.

      Home draws to Sevilla and Lyon in the meantime, had left Massimiliano Allegri’s men needing victory in southern Spain in order to displace the Rojiblancos at the top of the table and they would ultimately claim the spoils the hard way, conceding an early goal to Nicolas Pareja.

      Marchisio’s spot-kick drew Juve level on the stroke of half-time and they eventually overcame their battle-hardened hosts, who’d been reduced to 10 men after Franco Vazquez’ dismissal, when Leonardo Bonucci drove home left-footed from distance in the 84th minute. Mario Mandzukic’s neat finish in injury time added gloss to a win that, followed by December’s home success over Dinamo Zagreb, ensured top spot in Group H.

      Porto reached the Champions League group stages by beating Roma in a two-legged play-off back in August, 4-1 the aggregate scoreline against the Italians, but ‘the Dragons’ would make a slow start to life in Group G, drawing 1-1 at home to Copenhagen and losing 1-0 to Leicester in their first two games.

      A pair of victories against Bruges saw Porto pick up the pace, while their goalless stalemate in Copenhagen on Matchday Five left them knowing that three points at home to Leicester in the final fixture would seal their place in the round of 16, and win they did as they emphatically defeated the reigning English champions and Group G winners thanks to a 5-0 thrashing at the Estadio Do Dragao.

      Domestic dominance

      Friday’s 4-1 victory over Palermo took Juventus’ winning streak at home in Serie A to 29 matches. The Bianconeri have also triumphed in their last three away fixtures and currently sit seven points clear of second-placed Roma in the table. Meanwhile, Allegri’s charges also saw off Milan in late January to reach the Coppa Italia semi-finals against Napoli, the first leg of which will be played on 28 February.

      Especially pleasing has been Juve’s rock-solid defensive showings in recent weeks and months, conceding just two goals and keeping seven clean sheets in the last nine Serie A matches.

      Porto have been in impressive form themselves and matched the Bianconeri’s run of six successive league victories with a 4-0 success at home to CD Tondela on Friday night.

      The Dragons have only lost once all season in Portugal’s top flight – away to Sporting Lisbon on 28 August – and they sit just one point behind league-leaders Benfica with 12 games remaining.

      Main men to monitor

      From Gianluigi Buffon in goal right through to Gonzalo Higuain up top, it was certainly a team effort that enabled Juventus to qualify as Group H leaders and they undoubtedly have match winners across the park.

      That said, the two men named above are the ones chosen for further elaboration in this preview and with good reason too.

      Buffon is the only member of the current Juventus side to have played in the Bianconeri’s previous Champions League outing in Porto back in 2001 – a blistering performance between the sticks that saw Juve’s Numero Uno make a string of outstanding saves that can be relived here.

      Having conceded just once in the last six league games – an injury-time consolation strike to Palermo on Friday night – there’s little to suggest that Gigi won’t be putting in another top-drawer display this time at the Estadio Do Dragao in what will be the legendary keeper’s 96th appearance in Europe’s premier club competition for the Old Lady.

      At the other end of the field, Gonzalo Higuain has been grabbing headlines in recent weeks and understandably so. Pipita’s goal against Palermo was his 22nd in all competitions this season and 12th in 10 Serie A games. His nine strikes since the turn of the year also make him the most prolific forward in Europe so far in 2017.

      Gonzalo netted three times in Juve’s Champions League group stages and he’s showing just the kind of form to suggest he can add to that tally during the knockout stages.

      Wednesday’s tie throws up one of the more intriguing UCL sub-plots, not least a match-up between arguably the two best goalkeepers of the last two decades: Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas.

      Casillas joined Porto in 2015 after 16 unforgettable seasons for Real Madrid in which he lifted the Champions League on three occasions (2000, 2002 and 2014). The 2010 World Cup winner is also the player to have made the most appearances in Europe’s premier club competition (166).

      Meanwhile in attack, André Silva provides Porto’s main goal threat. The 21-year-old tops his team’s scoring charts with 18 strikes in all competitions (four in the UCL group stages and another in the preliminary round), and he’s also more than capable of creating chances and, indeed, goals, with 10 assists to his name this term.

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