Much of European football had set their heart on an era-defining Clasico clash in Berlin – Barca v Real, Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. Of course, that never came to pass but from a footballing perspective, the competition might have itself an even more compelling show-piece event instead.
Barcelona are heavy favourites to claim a third Champions League title in six years against Juventus, with the Camp Nou side climbing the kind of heights last seen under Pep Guardiola. But if there is one team to stop another piece of shimmering silverware heading back to Catalonia, it is Juve. No honestly, it is.
Their run all the way to the final was somewhat unexpected, but Max Allegri’s side are certainly there by merit – having disposed of defending champions and general juggernauts Real Madrid in the semi-finals. Juve showed enough in those games to suggest that they can also see off the other half of the Clasico rivalry on Saturday.
Real Madrid fans preparing for the Champions League Final… pic.twitter.com/Avdd7XKVd0
— Pie Sports Booze (@piesportsbooze) May 31, 2015
While the front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez is where Barca obviously do most damage, their strength still emanates from midfield. Without Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic – with Xavi Hernandez as a very able option from the bench – the Catalans would be critically handicapped.
And that’s where Juventus can get to Barca. The Turin club are the only side in Europe to boast a midfield unit that is at least comparable to Barcelona’s. The central quartet of Claudio Marchisio, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and of course Andrea Pirlo are finely balanced and possess all the necessary attributes to counter their Catalan counterparts.
If Juve’s chances of overturning Barcelona in Berlin are to be embodied in one man it is Pogba. The 22-year-old former Manchester United midfielder is football’s next greatest player in waiting, and Saturday could prove to be his coming out party. That’s not to say that the Frenchman hasn’t already made a deep impression on the European game – constant transfer speculation linking him with a move to football’s biggest and best teams proves that.
However, Pogba’s stature could enter an entirely new realm on Saturday – should he be the man to stop the Barcelona runaway train with his bare knuckles. He is a goal threat – with eight to his name his season – a creative force – boasting three Champions League assists – and even a defensive lynchpin – making an average of 1.9 tackles per game. He will naturally need the help of his teammates (particularly Pirlo and Vidal) but the Frenchman could announce himself as a star every bit as blinding as Messi or Ronaldo in Berlin.
The days of Italian football’s derision as the mere pursuit of insipid mundanity are long past, with Juventus stacked with mercurial attacking talent in the likes of Carlos Tevez (who has 27 goals and eight assists to his name this season) Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Morata. But the Turin side are a solid outfit defensively, with just three goals conceded in the knock-out rounds of this season’s Champions League.
Giorgio Chiellini – who has been ruled out with a calf injury – will be missed greatly by the Old Lady, but even still – Juventus have enough defensive steel within their back four to keep Barcelona at bay. And of course, they have Gigi Buffon – arguably the greatest player to never win the European Cup – as the last line. From front to back, they are custom-built Barca beaters.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) June 5, 2015
Juventus provide prime precedence in the case study of how UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations have helped sustain football’s status quo. Forbes ranks the Turn club as the ninth richest club in world football, and indeed they are giants of the Italian game. Juve are Serie A’s (supposedly the fourth best league in Europe) predominant side, and yet they have found themselves locked out of the elite in recent years. Saturday could be their breakthrough.
It’s been five years since an Italian team – and 12 years since Juventus – last appeared in the Champions League final. Such has been the length of their elite-level absence, the Old Lady are still seen as a club of another era. But when it comes to halting the greatest dynasty of the modern game – Messi and co. – they are certainly well-equipped.
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