Juventus vs Barcelona | Saturday 06 June | Olympiastadion Berlin | 20:45
This year’s Champions League final serves up a potentially thrilling encounter between two of Europe’s elite footballing dynasties. Barcelona, in a striking return to dominance, are aiming to further entrench their status as the pre-eminent European side of this generation. Juventus are aiming to re-establish Italian football as one of Europe’s powerhouses under the careful tutelage of Allegri. This game is a perfect study in contrasts, with Barcelona’s frenetic, non-stop attacking style coming up against Juventus’ more measured, counterattacking approach. Whichever way this game goes, a member of European royalty will be celebrating come Saturday night.
To Win (90mins)
To Lift the Cup
Juventus romped away with the Serie A title in imperious fashion, perhaps exemplifying the vacuum of depth that currently underlines Italy’s top division. They did however overcome Real Madrid in a tightly contested semi-final that gave many pause to reconsider their European credentials. Paul Pogba was immense in the second-leg of the semi-final, chewing up vast tracts of grass in his quest to quell Madrid’s attacking potential His role, along with the inexhaustible Marchisio, will once again be critical in attempting to thwart the more fluid attacking system of Barca.
I can’t see Juve employing their celebrated 3-5-2 formation here. Messi and Neymar are far too dangerous hugging the touchlines, searching for those seemingly non-existent pockets of space that they almost conjure up magically. The flat-back four will likely be employed, with Lichtsteiner and Evra given far less license to express themselves in a progressive capacity. Vidal will attempt to disrupt the Barcelona midfield with his dogged determination, while Tevez and Morata continue to etch away their surprisingly successful partnership. But in Barcelona they face a side building up a potent head of steam at just the right time in the competition.
Barcelona’s resurgence under Luis Enrique has not been without its share of hiccups. News of an early season player revolt, under the apparent leadership of Lionel Messi, led many to believe that this managerial selection was an ill-fated blot in the recent dazzling history of Barca. 120 goals between Messi, Neymar and Suarez have silenced the critics in spectacular fashion. Suarez, despite a nervy start to his Barca career, has brought aggression and a direct quality to a side sometimes guilty of over-elaboration. He has perfectly complimented the pace of Neymar and wizardry that Messi brings to proceedings.
Barca’s midfield offers a perfect balance to their front trio. While Iniesta and Rakitic are equally adept in joining the attack, they both ably assist Busquets in shutting down the opposition momentum. Alves and Alba are sensational in bombing down the opposition flanks, giving the front three room to express themselves in the final third of the field. Rakitic has had an impressive first year at Barca but will have his work cut out in trying to evade the likes of Marchisio and Pogba. Messi’s goal in the Copa del Rey final just served to underline his re-emergence as the dominant player in world football. His mesmeric run will no doubt be giving the Juve defenders some food for thought going into this game.
Messi vs Evra
While much of the pre-game hype will be focused on the racism row between Suarez and Evra, it will be the incandescent Argentine that will be uppermost in Evra’s mind. If Messi is able to isolate the former United left-back, Evra could be in for a rough ride on Saturday night.
Pirlo vs Iniesta
Both playmaking dynamos will be aiming to split the opposition defences with telling through-balls and pin-point passing. They are, however, different stylistically. Iniesta plays at a far higher tempo, aiming to penetrate through pace, while Pirlo drops into uncomfortable pockets of space and controls his symphony like a classical conductor.
Morata vs Mascherano
The former Madrid striker has allowed Tevez to feed off of him and offers Pirlo an excellent focal point for his long balls. If Juve are able to isolate Morata against the tough, but diminutive Argentine utility player, they may be able to exercise far more control in the game than expected.
VERDICT: Barcelona 6/10
I always thought that Juventus were the one team that could provide real problems for Barcelona, with such a pointed contrast in styles. However, Barca’s front three look virtually unstoppable at the moment and I can’t see Juventus being able to contain them. Messi should become the first man to score in three Champions League finals, further entrenching himself as perhaps the greatest footballer of all time.