Juventus v Barcelona
Champions League – Fiuuunale [Saturday,6th June – 19:45 GMT] – Olympiastadion, Berlin
Juventus have one last match before their season ends. Of course, it’s a big match, too. The Champions League final. Max Allegri and his boys will need to be at top form when they take on the favorites, Barcelona, and luckily they have had a few weeks since their last Champions League fixture, so the team is prepared and rested.
Unfortunately, there is one notable absence: Giorgio Chiellini. The talismanic defender will miss the match after injuring his calf in training only three days before the final. It’s a big loss for Juventus, and a big loss for Chiellini, who worked so hard during Juve’s run to the final. Fortunately, Allegri has some options in defense, which we will look at next.
Juve should come out in a 4-3-1-2, and not a 3-5-2. While the 3-5-2, on paper, offers some more defensive depth, it also makes the team a bit weak when it comes to defending width, which Barcelona would gladly exploit. So, expect a 4-3-1-2.Gianluigi Buffon will start in goal, as he always does when fit, and Buffon will be playing in his second Champions League final. His first, of course, was in 2003 versus A.C. Milan. Buffon has been a critical part of Juve’s Champions League success this year, and he will need to have another fine performance on Saturday if Juve are to win.
In front of him, we know for sure that Leonardo Bonucci will start. Now, with Chiellini out, his partner in central defense is probably going to be Andrea Barzagli, assuming he is fit. Barzagli went down with an injury over a week ago, but he has been in full training with the team for a few days, so he is ready to play if not at peak fitness. Juve’s other option is Angelo Ogbonna, who is an able defender though many Juventini would rightfully worry about him playing versus Barcelona. Barzagli is preferred based on ability, but the fitness issue makes the choice complicated – one doesn’t want to start Barzagli only to have to waste a substitute on him if he isn’t actually fit enough to play. (see: Costa, Diego in the 2014 Champions League final.)
Out wide, Patrice Evra will start at left back with Stephan Lichtsteiner partnering him on the opposite side. Each man will have much work to do in defense, with Barcelona’s forwards particularly adept at widening play, in addition to being generally excellent players.
From there, the line up is rather clear. Andrea Pirlo is expected to start in the deep midfield role, with Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba in central midfield, and Arturo Vidal as the advanced midfielder. Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Sturaro should be on the bench as potential substitutes, which could come in quite handy.
Finally, up top we will see Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata starting. Both men will need to be constantly on their toes to exploit Barca’s defense, arguably the least excellent part of their squad. Furthermore, both men will need to take full advantage of every opportunity, every touch, that they get. Morata scored versus Real Madrid, so let’s see if he can score against the other big team in Spain.
4-3-1-2: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Bonucci, Evra; Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba; Vidal; Tevez, Morata.
Romulo (thigh), Caceres (ankle). Chiellini (Calf)
While Juventus lost a key member of the side to injury, Barcelona have the luxury of not needing to worry about injuries. Andres Iniesta was a fitness doubt for a bit, but now it seems that he will start in midfield, having recovered from whatever issue he had.
Meanwhile, Marc-Andre ter Stegen is expected to start in goal over Claudio Bravo – Bravo, by the way, is a teammate of Vidal’s on the Chilean national team – Stegen is the usual goalkeeper for Champions League matches it seems, while he rarely plays in La Liga. Look to see Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano as the starting center backs, and they will be the ones tasked with controlling Tevez and Morata, so they will have much work to do.
On the flanks, Dani Alves is expected to start at right back while Jordi Alba starts on the left side. Both men are dangerous going forward – Alves has four assists in Champions League alone – but could find themselves exposing their centerbacks if they get too focused on the attack, as we saw happen to Real Madrid when they played Juventus.
The midfield trio will be as follows: Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. These three will have the key battle of the match, versus the Juve midfield, but expect Neymar and Messi to drop deep and help out when they can. It remains to be seen what effect the fitness issues will have on Iniesta’s play, though I suspect there will be little to no effect. Meanwhile, Xavi is going into his final match ever with Barcelona, yet he will almost surely not start. Could we see him come on as a substitute? Perhaps, though he didn’t see much time in the latter rounds of Champions League.
Of course, everyone knows who will start in attack for Barcelona: Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Lionel Messi. That is, two top ten – arguably top five – in the world attackers, and then the best player in the world – if not of all time – Messi. All three men have the ability to win a match in a second with their immense ability. Put together, they have formed the most lethal attack in Europe this season. Still, they haven’t faced Juventus, who have – statistically- the best defense in Europe. We will be in for quite the match up, and it’s really tough to say who will prevail.
4-3-3: Stegen; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Iniesta, Busquets; Neymar, Suarez, Messi