Saturday, 06 June 2015 1945 UTC
Domestic league football across the world has wound down with likely and unlikely champions crowned and now all the footballing world’s eyes are trained on Berlin, the venue of the 2015 UEFA Champions League Final where Italian champions Juventus are all set to take on Spanish Champions Barcelona. This is the eighth time that both these clubs have played in a European Cup final though Barcelona have been the more successful one with 4 wins to Juventus’ 2. The winner of the match will also complete their treble since both clubs have also won the domestic cup competition and with the tantalising mix of players and history on show, it sure promises to be the magnum opus it is billed as. The two clubs are facing each other after more than a decade and as such much has changed between them. THT brings you the lowdown on the match.
Team News, Tactics and Formation
The Old Lady is back in a European Cup final after a gap of 12 long years. It has been a fairy tale script for Juventus who were relegated to Serie B in 2006 following the Italian football scandal. Juventus earned their way back to Serie A and 9 years later are standing on the brink of European glory and a historic treble.
Juventus’ preparation for the final was jolted a couple of days ago when Giorgio Chiellini was ruled out of the final with a calf injury. Chiellini has been a key player for the Zebras this season, keeping the back water tight and Juventus will need to display their squad depth to replace the defender. While Barzagli did return to first team training recently after his thigh injury, Allegri may want to play Angelo Ogbonna to avoid having Barzagli make his return in a European Cup final. Juventus’ defence has been pretty solid, having conceded only 7 times this European season and they would hope to keep things the same when Messi and Co. come calling. Bonucci is expected to line up alonside Ogbonna with Lichtsteiner and Evra expected to guard the right and left flanks respectively.
The engine room of Juventus would have the stately Pirlo managing proceeding from a deeper midfield role while Vidal, Pogba and Marchisio take hand offs from him to move the ball farther upfield. Pogba is especially significant to Juventus’ title hopes. He has been in sizzling form and has already helped Juventus to the Scudetto and Coppa Italia honours and the Bianconeri supporters would hope that he performs for them for one more match before the season winds down. Vidal has been more like a hammer in a surgeon’s operation theater providing Juventus the muscle upfront to harass defenders and vie for the ball. He would also be a key player if Juventus want to breakthrough the back line of Barca.
Upfront Tevez and Morata would expect good service from their midfield to deliver the goods that they have throughout the season. Morata was hugely instrumental in sinking Real Madrid in the semi finals while Tevez has been in the form of his life this season for Juventus.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has been at the club for nearly 14 years now. He is the only survivor of the 2003 final against Milan at Old Trafford where Juventus lost in penalties. With the time that has elapsed and the 2006 relegation and clear out, Buffon has seen a lot at the club. This is probably his last chance at European glory and it is certain he would give it all he has to lift the Cup as captain for the club. For Pirlo too this may be his swansong. A European Cup and treble to decorate the finale would be poetic justice. For either of these players.
Probable XI (4-4-2 diamond): Buffon; Evra, Ogbonna, Bonucci, Lichtsteiner; Pogba, Pirlo, Vidal, Marchisio; Tevez, Morata
After a somewhat sedate start under Luis Enrique the Catalan giants have built up a massive head of steam that has guided them to the La Liga and the Copa del Rey. While it would be unfair to only credit certain players, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored an incredible 102 goals this season between them. The trio are in top form and are unarguably the best attacking trio in the world currently, probably the best of all time. Juventus’ problems do not end if they can control Messi because Barcelona is currently like a multi-headed monster.
Barcelona’s arguably weakest third is their defense. Manned by Mascherano and Pique and assisted by Dani Alves and Jordi Alba on the flanks, the defense is definitely not the best in Europe (that plaudit goes to Juventus) but then the defense does a fair job and the forwards take care of the rest by outscoring their opponents. As such Enrique doesn’t need to change anything in the backroom and needlessly unsettle his playing 11.
In midfield, Enrique will need to resolve a conflict between heart and mind as he ways up the decision to play either Rakitic or Xavi as Iniesta and Busquets pretty much lock down the other two starting spots. Xavi has a lot of experience and it being his last game for Barcelona there would always be the temptation to start him ahead of Rakitic but on evidence of form Rakitic should start the game Xavi can be brought on as a late substitute if Barcelona have a winning lead or need to hold onto a slender one as Xavi will provide that extra amount of tempo control in midfield.
The forward trio would probably be the first names to go onto the team sheet. Messi, Suarez and Neymar (popularly dubbed MSN) have formed a lethal combination that annihilates the opposition and mesmerises the neutral. They play off each other, make exceptionally well timed runs and always seem to know where the other two are and what they are doing. It has netted them great results so far this season and Barca fans would love to see MSN sing one last song this season to secure the European title for a fifth time.
Probable XI (4-1-4-1): ter Stegen; Alba, Mascherano, Pique, Dani Alves; Busquets; Neymar, Iniesta, Rakitic, Messi; Suarez .
- This is the eighth time Juventus and Barcelona are featuring in a European Cup final. Barcelona have won 4 of theirs while Juventus are on 2.
- If Juventus lose on Saturday, they will become the first club to have lost a European Cup final 6 times. They are currently tied with Bayern Munich and Benfica on 5.
- The average age of Juventus’ first team is 29.2 years. It is the oldest in this year’s European competition. Old Lady indeed!
- Juventus and Barcelona faced each other last in the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. Juventus won that tie and proceeded to a semifinal against Real Madrid. They won that tie as well and eventually lost to Milan in the final. Buffon and Xavi respectively are the only survivors of that tie. Current Barca manager Luis Enrique had captained Barcelona for the tie.
Players to watch out for
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
The diminutive Argentine dances a deadly dance on the football pitch and with his partners in crime he has torn apart the best in Spain and Europe to reach this match. Juventus’ defending has been resolute through the length of the competition but Messi provides a challenge level hitherto unseen by them. The absence of Chiellini could not have been more ill timed as the defenders buckle down to defend the game of their lives.
Paul Pogba (Juventus)
The Manchester United exile has found his home in Turin and has the Bianconeri supporters singing in his praise. Many football critics have commented that United’s decision to let Pogba go was an ill advised one and he is showing what he is capable of now. Pogba would be key to unlock Barcelona’s defense for Morata or Tevez to score for Juventus. In a pinch, Pogba himself is not the worst choice to take a shot on goal either.
Barcelona 2 Juventus 2 (Juventus to win on penalties)
That is exactly how tightly this game is split down the middle. Barcelona’s extreme firepower will be dealing with Europe’s most resolute defense and a goalkeeper who knows that this is probably his last chance for European glory. On the other hand, Ter Stegen and the Barca defense does seem to have the occasional moments when they’re caught napping or worse ball watching. Pogba and Vidal are very dangerous from open play and even more so from set pieces. With the Barcelona defense trying to clear up the latest mess they may have gotten themselves into, a mistimed tackle on the edge of the box could easily setup a free kick for the former two to knock into ter Stegen’s net.