It’s tempting to cast Saturday’s Champions League Final in Berlin as a clash between two diametrically opposing styles: the possession-based, attacking tiki-taka of Barcelona; and the cautious, defensive catenaccio of Juventus. In reality, though, the only aspects of the game that will truly be that black and white will be Juve’s jerseys.
It’s true that Juventus gave up fewer goals than any team in Italy on their way to winning their fourth consecutive Serie A title; they also scored more goals than any other in Serie A.
Meanwhile Barcelona racked up an astonishing 110 goals in La Liga this season (eight less than second-place Real Madrid), and managed to concede just 21 goals, three less than Juve. Of major sides across Europe, only Bayern Munich gave up fewer goals in domestic action than Barça this season.
It’s a tough nut to crack for Juve, who face a team with the most formidable attack in Europe and a defense that’s statistically one of the best. Looking at the stats and these two teams on paper, it’s difficult to make a compelling case for anything other than a Barça win; people have been writing off Juve’s chances in this competition for several rounds now. And any team that reaches the final by brushing past the likes of Atletico Madrid, Olympiacos, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, and Real Madrid is not one that should be written off lightly.
But then squeaking past a Real Madrid side in disarray and beating a Barcelona team that’s recently reclaimed its status as the best in the world are two different matters. Barça’s front three of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Suarez have scored 81 league goals between them this season, nine more than the entire Juventus squad. Meanwhile, Barça’s defensive record has improved under Luis Enrique and the midfield remains the finest in the world. It’s difficult to identify a weakness anywhere on the pitch.
Juve, of course, also have an excellent squad, one of the best in Europe, although nowhere near the quality of Barça’s. If there is a case to be made for Juve, it’s perhaps that the Italian side has demonstrated a tactical nous that’s allowed them to bypass better sides on the way to reclaiming their status among Europe’s elite.
And while Barcelona have splashed the cash on big money transfers like Neymar and Suarez, this Juve side has been put together on the cheap, at least by the standards of a club at the apex of European football. Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Patrice Evra were all acquired on free transfers. Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez meanwhile, were snapped up at bargain prices.
If Allegri’s team has any hope of getting past Barça they’ll need to be as shrewd on the pitch as they’ve been in the transfer market. Their best chance may lie in maintaining defensive solidity in back and trying and upset the Catalans in midfield. If they can knock Barça out of their rhythm and disrupt the supply lines to the lethal front three, they might be able to minimize Barça’s chances to score.
It’s a dangerous game that could leave Allegri’s team badly exposed to a counterattack. However Juve does boast three of the best midfielders in the world in Pogba, Vidal, and Pirlo. They’ve also got lethal forwards like Tevez and Alvaro Morata that, while not on the level of Barça’s mercurial front three, have a proven pedigree at the highest level. And if Juve can succeed in taking the game to penalties, they have an ace in the hole in the form of Gianluigi Buffon, who even at age 37, is regarded as one of the top goalkeepers in the world.
But as Buffon said himself this week, if Juve stand any chance at all, it will depend on what sort of mood Lionel Messi is in. The Argentine has been so unplayable of late that the Italian keeper compared him to an extraterrestrial. If Juventus have any hope of beating Barcelona, they must somehow try and contain Messi, which as we saw with his goal against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final, is next to impossible.