The UEFA Champions League final is a classic battle of two teams with contrasting styles and strengths.
Barcelona, who are looking to win their fourth Champions League title in the last ten years, boast the most fearsome attacking trio in world football. Lionel Messi is complimented with the guile of Neymar and the tenacity of Luis Suarez – with the trio of world-class attackers amassing 81 league goals between them this season.
Meanwhile, Juventus boast the best defence in Europe and use this as base to frustrate the opposition, whilst exploiting it with the clinical precision of Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez.
Barcelona in Focus
Luis Enrique has enjoyed a fruitful season in the Barcelona dugout but he has sailed preciously close to the edge at times. The Barcelona coach looked like a dead man walking after allegedly falling out with Messi and Suarez and despite his best efforts, he didn’t really click into gear until the turn of year.
But to his credit Enrique has stuck to his methods and it’s paid off handsomely as Barca have swept aside all comers. The Catalan club won the league by four points while they have a Copa del Rey final date with Atletico Madrid. And on the European front Enrique has navigated his side past Man City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in the semis.
The final against Juventus will be a different test, however. The best attack in Europe takes on the best defence and in a one off game anything can happen.
Barcelona will need to draw out the disciplined Italian defence and exploit the space in behind – a key battle will be Messi against Patrice Evra. The 34 year-old French full back was excellent in the semi final win over Real Madrid and he will need a similar performance, if not better when facing Barcelona.
If Messi drops deep on the right hand side and sits closer to the midfield, Evra may be caught in two minds whether to pick him up or protect his flank. Either way, Barcelona can profit by Messi dictating the play by picking the ball up earlier or by exploiting the space left behind the full backs.
Juventus in Focus
Massimiliano Allegri will need to play to his team strengths if they are to overcome the Catalan juggernaut. But he will be cautiously optimistic of getting a result, especially after seeing off Real Madrid over two legs.
Nevertheless, Juventus’ strength lies in defence and they will need to call upon every ounce of experience their backline boasts – starting with the legendary 37 year-old ‘keeper Gigi Buffon. And the Turin side’s centre back pairing of Chiellini and Bonucci, who are as robust as they are cynical, gives them a fighting chance of success.
As already mentioned, Evra against Messi is a key battle but so is the other flank with Stephan Lichtsteiner given the likely task of keeping Neymar quiet. The 31 year-old Swiss defender is an intelligent footballer who reads the game so well he rarely needs to dive into tackles, which will be key when trying to subdue Neymar and co.
But it’s somewhat of a disservice to label the Italian champions just as a defensive unit; they have the attacking weapons in Pirlo, Pogba and Tevez to hurt Barcelona on the counter attack.
Juve’s game plan is clear, keep it tight and a 0-0 half time score line would be the ideal scenario. Allegri’s side will be keen to soak up the punches Barcelona throw at them and launch the killer blow as the game wears on.
An early goal for Barcelona, however, will scupper their chances and swing the game massively in favour of the Spanish champions. Then it’s a question of whether Pogba and Juve’s midfield can wrestle the game back?
All in all, you have to make Barcelona clear favourites for victory but the longer the game remains deadlocked, the more you fancy Juventus to go the distance.