UEFA Champions League Final Preview: Barcelona Vs Juventus
That’s because the Italian champion has a trio of its own — Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini — who make up one of the meanest defenses in Europe.
The three of them are a tight unit, marshalling the back together for club and country for several years, and if they deal with Messi in the Champions League final on Saturday in Berlin as effectively as they controlled Cristiano Ronaldo in the semifinals against Real Madrid, Juventus could pull off a cup treble of its own.
The “best player in history” for his coach, an “extraterrestrial” for his rivals, Lionel Messi is the undisputed leading man of the Champions League final in Berlin on Saturday.
Facing Juventus, the Barcelona forward can become the first player to score in three Champions League finals as he tries to clinch Barcelona its second ever treble of titles in one season.
After a trophy-less 2013-14 season that included Argentina’s defeat in the World Cup final, Messi is playing better than ever, scoring seemingly at will, while also acting as Barcelona’s best playmaker after moving back to the right side of its attack.
If his highlight reel of one-of-a-kind goals doesn’t suffice, then here are the raw numbers for Messi with Barcelona: 23 titles, 77 Champions League goals, 58 goals this season, 20 goals in 23 career finals, four-time world player of the year, and a club record 412 goals in 481 appearances.
“Our dream is to win it all,” Messi said this week.
Players To Watch Out For:
Barcelona fans will have their fingers crossed that Luis Suarez will be on his best behavior in the final.
Just like last season, Suarez will end this campaign crossing paths with Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini.
When they met at the World Cup, Suarez bit the Italian defender on the shoulder, earning the Uruguay striker a four-month ban from competition and another black mark on his resume.
Chiellini said this week he had “no problem” with Suarez, and that he would shake his hand, even hug his aggressor.
Suarez has yet to speak about the rematch with Chiellini.
Barcelona teammate Javier Mascherano said Suarez was focused only on winning the final.
“It’s a special match, but because it’s a final of the Champions League,” Mascherano said. “That (incident) for Luis is water under the bridge. It is not necessary to say anything to him.”
Suarez has 24 goals despite starting the season late while completing his suspension. Add Neymar’s 38 goals and Messi’s haul, and the three have combined for a staggering 120 strikes this season.
Sergio Busquets gives Barcelona its center of gravity, linking its attack and defense.
From his hunting ground in the heart of the midfield, the holding midfielder excels at recovering the ball to start Barcelona’s attack, just when opponents finally thought it was safe to venture forward.
He also acts as the main passing outlet for his teammates to ping the ball back and forth before an incisive pass springs Messi, Neymar or Suarez into the area.
“We hope to win the battle in midfield,” Busquets said. “Juventus have some important players such as Vidal, who is a very complete player. We will try to be better than him.”
With Dani Alves and Jordi Alba focusing on attacking from the wings, Barcelona’s defense is left to center backs Gerard Pique and Mascherano.
Solid even when he is the only man standing between an attacker and the goalkeeper, Pique is also one of his team’s most effective scorers.
He has netted seven goals, and is the team’s best weapon in set-pieces, a facet of its attack that coach Luis Enrique has improved this season.
MARC-ANDRE TER STEGEN
While all the attention will be on Barcelona’s illustrious strikers, its chances will also rest on 23-year-old goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
In his first season at Barcelona, the young German has played in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, leaving Claudio Bravo to help reclaim the Spanish league crown.
Ter Stegen has shown aplomb beyond his years, helping Barcelona win the Copa del Rey last weekend, and he will oppose Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon who, at age 37, has 95 Champions League appearances behind him.
“The Spanish cup was very important for me to have a rhythm,” Ter Stegen said. “This (final) is a great opportunity for me personally. We have to be proud of the whole season, and now finish it off in the best possible way.”
You would have been hard pressed a year ago to find anyone believing Tevez would fire Juventus to a Champions League final. Not only had the club crashed out at the group stage last season, but Tevez hadn’t scored in the competition for more than five years.
The transformation this season has been huge. He has seven goals in the league, adding to 20 in the Serie A, and two in the Italian Super Cup.
“He has really taken us to another level, he is a great champion, who is often misjudged,” Juventus teammate Claudio Marchisio said.
“He has always been a team player, he has worked so hard, and has become a reference point, on the field and in the dressing room. He is a really important rock. I hope he can be especially so on Saturday.”
Goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon has won almost every trophy in a 20-year career — including the 2006 World Cup at the same stadium in Berlin as the Champions League final.
But he’s never won the Champions League. His one previous final, in 2003, was lost to AC Milan.
“It’s not my last year as a player so this won’t be my last chance,” Buffon said. “There’s always a chance while you’re playing, and while you feel inside yourself the desire to go out and perform because you know you still have the ability.”
Buffon, aged 37, keeps making astonishing saves, enough for coach Massimiliano Allegri to say his captain ought to receive the Ballon d’Or. He finished second to compatriot Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.
Shutting out Messi, Neymar, and Suarez would do his cause no end of good.
The world’s best goalkeeper has never been tested by the world’s best outfield player, as Buffon has never played against Messi.
He has faced Suarez twice, in the Europa League and at last year’s World Cup, and shut him out. Neymar scored once against Buffon, with a free kick for Brazil at the 2013 Confederation’s Cup.
Like Buffon, Andrea Pirlo is returning to the scene of Italy’s World Cup triumph. However, unlike his Juventus and Italy teammate, Pirlo’s equally impressive haul of trophies includes two Champions Leagues won while at AC Milan.
Pirlo is one of the most admired midfielders in the world. Having just turned 36, he no longer surges from midfield but still sets up goals with passes of breathtaking accuracy.
He is also so much of a free kick specialist that any such situation, within 30 yards of goal, is coined “Pirlo territory.”
At the other end of the age scale to Pirlo is fellow midfielder Paul Pogba, who has become a mainstay since his move from Manchester United in 2012. Still only 22, the final is a chance for the world to admire the France international.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Pogba, who has been the subject of intense transfer speculation. “I’m very happy with how things have gone here. I don’t regret anything.”
After missing the quarterfinal against Monaco and the first leg against Real Madrid injured, Pogba put in some lethargic performances, and was criticized by Allegri for showboating.
“Sometimes my attitude looks … it doesn’t mean I’m showing off, I’m just playing my football,” Pogba said. “What the coach is saying is the truth. I have to be focused 90 minutes.
“It may look like I’m taking things easy, but it’s not like that at all. When I hear these things, it gets to me. I want to prove that what people are saying or thinking is wrong.”
Morata helped Real Madrid last season to its 10th Champions League trophy then transferred from his boyhood club to Juventus.
The Spain forward scored in both legs of the semifinal against his old club but didn’t celebrate out of respect. That wouldn’t be the case if he netted against Barcelona.
“I would love to do so but I know how hard it will be,” he said. “It’s Barca, so it would be even more special for me, as it’s the eternal rival of Madrid. Of course I would celebrate, but what matters is to win, it matters little to me who scores.”