Barcelona and Juventus are set to face off in the Champions League final this Saturday night. Few woulda ve predicted these two sides as the eventual finalists of Europea s top competitions when the season begun. Theya ve both shown themselves worthy though, especially as the knockout rounds progressed. Barcelona, with their experience and talent on hand, will be immediate favorites but the final itself will be an intriguing tactical battle. Both sides enacted a similar approach in their semifinal ties, relying on their strongest unit to get them through. Barcelona gave Bayern Munich more time on the ball than any other opponent they usually face and used the skill, speed and intelligence of the best forward trio in world football on the counter and in general play. All the goals scored by the Spanish side were created and finished by that trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Juventus relied on a defense led by Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini to thwart Real Madrida s high priced attackers and counter with efficiency. In truth, Juventusa entire defensive structure as a team is what got them through but one could argue their defense is the best in Europe. Both teams just showed their capacity to win in a way much different from their usual approach. Both are among the top 15 sides in terms of possession in Europe. The roles of favorite versus underdog means one side will likely revert to their usual pass-first approach. Expect that to be Barcelona.
Massimiliano Allegri has had an incredible impact since being appointed by the Bianconeri, his decision-making proving especially crucial throughout the Old Ladya s surprising run in Europea s elite competition. As they prepare to face Barcelona on June 6, it could well be that the choices made by the man in the dugout prove to be crucial. Chief among them is something else that was on display in that clash with Real Madrid earlier this month, leading to a tactical question that could be central to events at Berlina s Olympiastadion. Allegri has used Andrea Barzagli in the later stages to switch his side into a hugely familiar 3-5-2 formation for the remainder of the match. It was a reversal of the shift made earlier in the campaign, the coach moving to a back four after three seasons in which the three-man defence had been the preferred framework of his predecessor Antonio Conte. Barzagli had missed a huge portion of the season injured, but since his return in early March, he had provided Juventus with a formidable tactical weapon. The 34-year-old has now made 16 appearances, with the team winning on all but three of those outings. They also kept no fewer than nine clean sheets in those games, the former Palermo and Wolfsburg defender once again providing guaranteed solidity every time he takes to the field. His performancesa and those of the team with him in ita have led to speculation that the Bianconeri may line up that way against Barcelona to counter potent attacking talents of Neymar, Luis Suarez and the incomparable Lionel Messi, but the choice to use it may not be that simple.The alternative is what Allegri dubbed a 4-3-and then the resta . Within that formation, Juventus have been in devastating goalscoring form themselves, providing far greater support to the newly formed partnership between Tevez and Morata.
It has also allowed the likes of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Roberto Pereyra much more freedom, making the Bianconeri increasingly dangerous going forward. That stands in some contrast with the way the team can look when deployed to protect the three-man defence, often looking particularly stale if opponents can keep wing-backs Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra occupied.A back four ensures that other weapons are available higher up the pitch, and it is vital that Juventus do not simply sit deep and allow Luis Enriquea s team to attack them while dominating and dictating the tempo. Allegria s decision may also have been made much more simple earlier this week, after the club announced that Barzagli was suffering with a thigh injury. With his availability for the final now in doubt, Angelo Ogbonna perhaps offers an alternative, but handing him a starting berth in such a huge tie would clearly be a massive gamble.Yet the coach has shown throughout 2014-15 that he is not averse to making bold choices, as he proved in fielding Stefano Sturaro against Real Madrid. The 22-year-old had only made six previous starts since arriving in January, but he repaid the faith of Allegri by turning in an assuredly mature performance.
The midfield metronome of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio speaks for itself, a terrifically balanced and adaptable variety of players one might argue is well able to duel with Barca’s. In Pirlo, Allegri has his ideal regista, an exuberant dynamo in Pogba, Vidal’s warrior mentality and the disciplined engine of Marchisio. By no means is this Juventus brigade to be ruled out before a ball has even been kicked.
The three-man defencea particularly in the event that Barzagli recovers in timea offers greater security, but the Bianconeri may once again opt to begin their first final since 2003 with a more traditional back four. It provides an intriguing question that will hang over the buildup to this huge encounter of two of the continenta s most prestigious clubs, and one that could yet decide the destination of the Champions League trophy.