UEFA CL Final preview: Treble-seekers Barça, Juve bring opposing styles to Berlin finale
Christian Soler on Jun 02, 2015 02:01 PM
For Barcelona and Juventus, this is what it's all about. (Associated Press Images)
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FRESH off completing domestic doubles, both Barcelona and Juventus descend on the hallowed and historic grounds of the Olympiastadion in Berlin with an eye on the biggest prize of all to complete the treble: the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, better known as the Champions League trophy. Both clubs are on fire. Both boast prodigious strike forces and clever midfielders. Both have astute minds pacing the sidelines.
The similarities end there.
Catalan flair against Italian steel. High-pressure, all-out attacking football versus organization, a stubborn defense, and counter-attacking play. A word of caution, though. These iterations of Barça and Juve are a bit more atypical than their counterparts this decade. Luis Enrique and Massimiliano Allegri’s subtle alterations to their respective sides have been game-changers, especially in the most critical moments. The European Cup will be won both on the pitch and along the touchlines.
Barcelona: Tiki-taka with a twist
Remember the days where Xavi and Andrés Iniesta would boss a match through short, rapid passes from side to side, whether they were sporting a Blaugrana or La Roja jersey, and pressure to get the ball back just as quickly? Those Pep Guardiola-mentored Barça sides, which amassed 14 trophies – including two Champions League titles both at Manchester United’s expense –, were so influential that the Spanish national team played almost the exact same way, and won three major tournaments along the way. In a time and place where players come and go, many of Barcelona’s influential figures from the Guardiola era remain, and now play with a twist.
Still attack-minded, Barcelona has undergone quite a tactical renaissance under Luis Enrique, who just months ago was under fire due to a supposed fallout with Lionel Messi and disappointing Liga results. The former Barcelona and Spain midfielder has installed a more direct passing game if any one of the MSN trinity – Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar – has space to operate. Moreover, and perhaps more crucially, Luis Enrique moved Messi to the right of the attacking troika, controversial at first since the Argentine has been banging in the goals from the center of the pitch. This allowed the struggling Suárez to start and operate as a center forward. The result: Messi was still scoring, Suárez found his form, and Neymar’s explosiveness shone through. The South American strike force combined for an incredulous 81 league goals, outpacing the goal tally of every Spanish club not named Real Madrid.
The raging form of Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suárez has understandably led pundits to wonder where they stack up among the all-time greatest strike forces (source: Le Figaro Sport).
Xavi, who will be playing his last match for the Catalan giants, should start along with Iniesta, if healthy, and Sergio Busquets in a holding role. Croatian sensation Ivan Rakitić and Brazilian Rafinha are viable options, too, but will most likely start from the bench if Iniesta is unfit. In any case, this engine room has provided great support for the front three all season. The two non-holding midfielders are often deployed right behind MSN, with Messi and Neymar inching much closer to the center of the field to facilitate the dangerous runs by fullbacks Jordi Alba and Dani Alves. This seven-man attack is reminiscent of the style orchestrated by Guardiola and Tito Vilanova, both disciples of El loco and current Olympique de Marseille coach Marcelo Bielsa, a firm believer of flooding the attacking third. Luis Enrique’s touch lies in his adaptability to given situations: his players now look for longer passes in the build-up and final third depending on where the opposing defenders are, as opposed to the one-tracked, short passing game of years past.
Expect Barcelona to get at Juventus’ throats from the get-go. While this is no longer the default approach with Luis Enrique at the helm, the Italian side’s elegant balance of attack and defense is too tempting for the Catalans to pass up on.
Juventus: Tactical flexibility translating to victories
Throughout the Champions League, Allegri’s Juventus has thrown all sorts of defensive combinations at opponents to keep them literally on their toes. The result is a first Final appearance for The Old Lady since beating Borussia Dortmund for the title in 1996. Allegri’s favored formation, a 4-3-1-2, has given way to a 3-5-2 and 5-3-2 depending on the situation. The only constant is the two-pronged strike force of Carlos Tevez and Álvaro Morata, with the latter scoring in both semifinal legs against his boyhood club to book his current team a ticket to Berlin. This will keep Luis Enrique guessing until kickoff.
In theory, Juve could line up in a 3-5-2 just because it’s the best formation to clog up the middle, which Barça runs rampant on. Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and, if healthy, Andrea Barzagli would man the center of defense, with the eternal Andrea Pirlo fronting the back three and supplying the initial ball on the counter. This will give Frenchman Paul Pogba, Europe’s most sought-after midfielder, Claudio Marchisio, and Arturo Vidal free roam to get in between the defense and aid the counter. Pogba and Marchisio are versatile enough to play wide if Patrice Evra and Stephan Lichsteiner are lying deep. Barzagli’s status could determine how Juve lines up, though.
Paul Pogba is Europe’s hottest football commodity. Yet his partnership with the legendary Andrea Pirlo will be key to launching and sustaining Juventus’ counter-attacking capabilities (source: Goal.com).
The key for Juventus is exploiting the flanks and playing as wide as possible since Barça fullbacks Jordi Alba and Dani Alves almost always get caught ‘cheating’ due to their propensity to attack. Since Evra is a step or two slower from his days with the Red Devils and Les Blues, the onus is on Pogba and perhaps Argentine fullback Roberto Pereyra to plug away. Finding Tevez will be the least of their problems: he is a proven goal-scorer at all levels.
What will happen
There’s a small chance that Barcelona will start conservatively despite playing in Europe’s biggest match. Messi and Neymar have the knack for finding seams even in the tightest of spaces. Juventus, whichever way it lines up, is capable of soaking up the pressure and would be comfortable sitting back and waiting for one of Barça’s fullbacks to overcommit. Who blinks first? Only a hardened betting man would lay everything on the line for Juventus. Barça lifts its fifth Champions League trophy with a 2-0 win.
Catch the Barcelona and Juventus in the UEFA Champions League Final on June 7, Sunday LIVE 2:30 am on BALLS Channel (Sky 34/Destiny 36) and ABS-CBN Sports + Action ch 23