Month: June 2015

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Barcelona

A JUVENTUS defense that has only conceded 24 goals this season will not be easy to break down, but a certain three men that have scored 120 between them will feel confident that at least one can find the back of the net on Saturday.

Lionel Messi (43), Luis Suarez (16) and Neymar (22) have scored 81 of Barcelona’s 110 league goals this season. To put that in some sort of context, the entire Juventus squad scored 70 goals this season, Chelsea scored 73 and Bayern Munich scored 80. Juventus (Italy), Chelsea (England) and Bayern (Germany) all won their respective leagues.

Despite the lethal form of “MSN” in front of goal, Barcelona did not finish as the top scorers in La Liga, as Real Madrid netted 118 times, but a reinvented Barca did concede the least amount in Spain (21), and only Bayern let in less in Europe’s top five leagues (18).

Tiki-Taka is not quite Tiki-Toast at Camp Nou, but, under Luis Enrique, Barcelona are certainly more dynamic.

Ivan Rakitic is one of the most notable men who spearheaded this change, with the Croatian play-maker being that bit more aggressive than the tippy-tappy Xavi and Andres Iniesta, with the former being dropped for Rakitic.

Iniesta, arguably the finest midfielder of his generation, has seen his role in the Barcelona fold somewhat decrease in value under the new style, contributing just one goal and five assists in La Liga and the Champions League combined compared to Rakitic’s eight assists and six goals in the two elite competitions. Rakitic also created 42 chances compared to Iniesta’s 32.

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

Ivan Rakitic: Modern Barcelona personified (Picture via theguardian.com)

In comparison, the strike force has gone the opposite way to the midfield with the hard working Alexis Sanchez (sold to Arsenal for £35 million), and Pedro (benched) being replaced by the aforementioned Suarez and Neymar who are more intent on scoring, scoring…and scoring a bit more, as opposed to winning the ball back and setting up the micro magician Messi.

The Catalan kings are keen to return to the throne of being Europe’s finest once again having not won the Champions League since 2011 where they defeated Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley Stadium.

They have already snatched back their domestic crown after having briefly lost it to Atletico Madrid for a year and Saturday’s final in Berlin will see either Barca or Juve win the treble with Barcelona also winning this season’s Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Athletic Club and Juventus overcame Lazio 2-1 in the Coppa Italia.

If Barcelona are to win their first treble since 2009, the rebranded team are going to have to find a way past a very organised Juventus side, but very few have managed to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

 

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Juventus

APPEARING in their first Champions League final since a tepid penalty shootout loss to Serie A rivals AC Milan in 2003, the Old Lady  will need to be more entertaining to win this time around.

The perception is that the Italian champions will need to sit back to beat Barcelona, but the much talked about front three of Luis Suarez, Neymar and of course Lionel Messi need no second invitation to score, allowing them to attack could cost Juve dear.

While the likes of Gigi Buffon, Georgio Chiellini, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra provide a steel to the Juventus defense, Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata will need license to roam as Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal pull the strings in midfield.

A central three of Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli keep it tight in the middle and allow wing-backs Lichtsteiner and Evra to bomb forward and support three of either Pirlo, Vidal, Pogba or Claudio Marchisio in midfield and create opportunities for Morata and 32 goal Tevez up front in what is one of the most balanced teams in Europe.

Chiellini, however, has been ruled out through injury.

Saturday’s final is the perfect opportunity for a final swansong for a large section of the Juventus squad. Buffon is now 37 and a stalwart of the side, and while he has won almost everything he has taken part in, the Champions League still eludes the goalkeeping legend.

Do it for Gigi: Buffon is desperate for Champions League success

Do it for Gigi: Buffon is desperate for Champions League success (Photo via GianluigiBuffon.it)

Evra is set to play in his fourth Champions League final after losing the 2004 showpiece 3-0 to Porto while at Monaco, and twice more in 2009 and 2011, (both to Barcelona), when at Manchester United with his solitary Champions League triumph coming in 2008 as United defeated fellow Premier League side Chelsea on penalties in Moscow.

Precision passer Pirlo may still play like he did when he was 25, but the reality now is that he is 36 and may never get the opportunity to add to his two Champions League titles. Victory on Saturday will be his first “Ol’ Big Ears” success with Juventus, as his 2003 and 2007 wins both came with AC Milan over his current club and Liverpool respectively.

On the other end of the age scale, Pogba could be saying ‘ta ta’ to Turin after the Berlin final with anyone who is anyone in Europe being linked to the flamboyant Frenchman this summer.

Chelsea and Manchester City both want to bring Pogba back to England, Paris Saint-Germain are trying to persuade the 22-year-old to return home to his native France, Bayern Munich are also keen, while even Manchester United, the club who gave up on the mercurial midfielder when he was 19, are trying to make amends for their earlier error in letting him go three years ago.

If Juventus are to win Europe’s top competition for the first time since 1997, they are going to need to tactically outclass Barca, knowing when to soak up the pressure and when to attack the Catalans. A blend of youth and experience may just be pivotal to working that out.