Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final will undoubtedly use up a lot of the same old soccer clichés. It will likely be billed as “The battle between two polar opposites,” comparing the free scoring and adventurous Barcelona against the stubborn but defensive Juventus. To fall into this easy trap may be folly especially if history has anything to say about it. Just as the four-time Italian champions were celebrating their 3-2 aggregate semi-final victory over the title holders Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, pundits and other members of the media were already preparing their eulogy.
Barcelona, like in many of their European encounters, are undeniably the favorites heading into the final in Berlin on Saturday. The Blaugrana have hit their stride at the right time and with 113 goals between them this season, the Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar triumvirate are clicking and have the world wondering if they are the best forward line in the history of the sport. Lionel Messi, the world’s number one player, is continuing to defy all logic and is at his best. Surely it would take an equally massive squad to stop them.
However, their opponents in the final, Juventus, are not your typical underdogs. One of the oldest teams in the competition at 29.1 years of age (second only to Manchester City 29.6), the Bianconeri are playing some of their best football in the club’s recent history. It all harkens back to another final involving Barcelona and an underdog Italian squad.
Twenty one years ago, Barcelona headed to the Champions League final in Athens as the favorites against Fabio Capello’s Milan. The favoritism shown to Barcelona went beyond seeing them as the superior team, many saw the final as merely a formality. Cruyff’s 1994 “Dream Team” also sported arguably the world’s number one player at the time in Romario along with an amazing supporting cast with Stoichkov, Guardiola, Koeman and Zubizaretta just to name a few. Surely they would easily dispose of their defensive counterparts from Italy.
AC Milan, however, were undoubtedly one the best Italian teams ever assembled. Despite being Italian champions three years running and Champions League finalists from the previous season, they were not given much respect heading into the match. The denigration hit a crescendo when Johan Cruyff was pictured holding the Champions League trophy aloft before the encounter, adding fuel to the Rossoneri fire. Milan at the time were one of the best defensive teams in Europe allowing only fifteen goals in the entire Serie A season and 4 goals in 18 European matches. They represented the perfect foil for Cruyff’s Blaugrana. Without much surprise the final was billed as attack vs. defense, creativity vs. negativity. However the surprise came in the 4-0 final score where Milan dismantled Barcelona to claim their fifth Champions League (European Cup) victory.
This time it’s Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus that have the opportunity to play the spoiler to Barcelona in this final. Of the final four teams remaining in the Champions League Juventus were the most unlikely to make it this far especially after they were drawn with defending champions, Real Madrid. They have defied all expectations this year in Europe and currently, Juventus probably represent the best opportunity to de-rail Lionel Messi and Barcelona from their quest of adding another trophy to the ever expanding cabinet at the Camp Nou. Juventus are the best defensive team, in what is traditionally the best defensive league in Europe, but to label the Bianconeri as a typical Italian defensive squad would be foolish. Catenaccio they are not.
Dynamic, explosive and discipline would be three adjectives that would best describe this edition of the Bianconeri. This season the squad from Torino lead Serie A in goals against (20) and goals for (tied with Lazio on 65) and are still on pace for the treble. They boast one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Despite his age, Gianluigi Buffon’s performance against Real Madrid in the semi-finals should leave no doubts he is still one of the best at his trade. Carlitos Tevez is currently the Serie A leading goal scorer with 20 goals and the new-comer Alvaro Morata are becoming quite the tandem. Add to the mix Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and the ever brilliant Andrea Pirlo, Juventus will be no push over and have the creativity and talent to ask many questions of a Barcelona defense that has been shaky at times.
Like the Milan of Capello twenty-one years ago, Allegri’s Juventus probably represent the biggest threat to Barcelona today. Defensively there is no other team who can tame Messi, Suarez and Neymar while still posing a threat of their own on the Barca goal. Juventus held Real Madrid to only two goals in two matches (Los Blancos registered 8 shots on target from 24 attempts) all the while soaking up an amazing amount of pressure like a proverbial sponge.
SEE MORE — Read Soccerlens’ UEFA Champions League Final Preview.
Often times finals fail to live up to the hype. Barcelona may be the favorites but history shows that favorites don’t always come through, after all the ball is round as they say. Anything can happen on June 6th and Juventus will not be cowed nor should they, the Bianconeri have been through a lot since 2006. From Serie B to a Champions League final in less than ten years is nothing short of miraculous and Juventus will relish their opportunity to return the Old Lady to the pinnacle of European football. It is of no coincidence that the last time Buffon, Pirlo and Barzagli were in the Olympiastadion together they raised the World Cup trophy into the Berlin sky, now they have the chance to do the same with the second most important trophy in world football and it is one they will not want to pass up.
The build up to the final may be typical but Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus will do their best to ensure the final itself will be anything but.
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