Juventus face Barcelona in Saturday night’s Champions League final, and we’ve got hold of two of our Unibet experts to provide you with the most comprehensive preview of a huge night in Berlin.
In the black and white corner, Adam Digby is the Italian football correspondent for FourFourTwo and BeInSportsUSA, and also the author of ‘Juventus: A History in Black & White’, whilst going in to bat for Barcelona is our La Liga expert Dermot Corrigan, who also writes on the Spanish game for ESPN, When Saturday Comes, WhoScored.com and more.
Adam Digby on Juventus: Juventus have suffered a major injury blow during their preparations for Saturday’s Final, revealing on Thursday that Giorgio Chiellini has suffered a thigh strain and will definitely miss the clash with Barcelona. The central defender is a crucial member of the squad, but the Bianconeri received better news as Andrea Barzagli returned to training, and his calm approach offers experience and assuredness against Europe’s most gifted attack.
The loss of Chiellini will likely prevent the Bianconeri from using the 3-5-2 formation should they manage to grab a lead, as Max Allegri is unlikely to trust Angelo Ogbonna for any extended period of time. Instead, the coach will most likely use what he calls a “4-3-and then we’ll see,” a framework which allows him to field all four of the club’s excellent midfielders. With Arturo Vidal playing in an advanced role to support Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata, Juve can quickly transition from defence into attack.
Dermot Corrigan on Barcelona: Barcelona coach Luis Enrique’s only selection concern is over midfielder Andres Iniesta, who picked up a calf muscle in last Saturday’s 3-1 Copa del Rey final win over Athletic Bilbao. Veteran Xavi Hernandez, in what is his last ever Barca game, or youngster Rafinha Alcantara are standing by if required, but Iniesta himself has said he expects to be fit to play.
Centre-forward Luis Suarez returned from a hamstring problem against Athletic and looks sure to start again and renew his rivalry with Juve’s Giorgio Chiellini and Patrice Evra. Germany under-21 international Marc-Andre-Ter Stegen starts in goal, as Barca’s ‘Copa-keeper’.
Adam: Having wrapped up a fourth consecutive Serie A title by early May, Juventus suffered an understandable dip in their domestic form. They rallied from that slump however, recording wins over Inter (2-1) and Napoli (3-1) despite fielding heavily rotated line-ups and then concluded the campaign with a 2-2 draw away to Hellas Verona. The Bianconeri also clinched only the third league and cup double in club history, lifting the Coppa Italia after defeating an excellent Lazio side just two weeks ago.
Dermot: With Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez already on 120 goals between them this season, Barca’s form could hardly be better really. Since recovering from a mini-crisis in early January, Luis Enrique’s side have won 30 of their 34 games as they’ve closed in on a treble of La Liga, Copa and Champions League. Opponents of the calibre of Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have all been pretty easily blown away. Rarely if ever in recent years has a team reached the end of a club season firing on so many cylinders at the same time.
What The Managers Say
Juve’s Max Allegri: “Preparing for a game like this is enjoyable. Everyone dreams of doing so and I consider myself very fortunate to coach players who have brought great joy over these past four years. It’s been an extraordinary season that will go down in history, and winning the Champions League would make it even better. We need to appreciate that we’ll be in for some difficult spells but also moments that go in our favour. We’re not travelling to Berlin to make up the numbers. It’s the final and taking on the world’s best players is something that’s perfectly normal, but this shouldn’t make us anxious as we have great character.”
Barca’s Luis Enrique: “We have had a very good Champions League. We have come through against the champions of England, France, Germany, now we play against the Italian champions. Finals always have a very important psychological aspect, but we are convinced we will play a good game.”
Best Moment On The Road To Berlin
Adam: Beating Real Madrid in the first leg of the semi-final was perhaps the watershed moment for this Juventus side in their surprising Champions League run. The emphatic away win over Borussia Dortmund was arguably a more complete performance, but that victory over Carlo Ancelotti’s men undoubtedly came against a much tougher opponent. Overcoming the attacking quality of Cristiano Ronaldo and his free-scoring team-mates provided the Bianconeri not only with supreme confidence, but also the ideal blueprint for a battle with Spain’s other giant club.
Dermot: The semi-final with Bayern Munich was still neatly balanced as the first leg at the Camp Nou moved into the last 15 minutes. Bayern coach Josep Guardiola had brought an injury-hit team back to his former club, and rode his luck a bit through the opening stages, but seemed set to take a creditable 0-0 draw back to Munich. That was until Lionel Messi’s superb 20 yard strike arrowed past Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer, and from then on there was never really any doubt about who would progress.
Adam: Carlos Tevez is the obvious candidate here, as the Argentinean sets the tone for Juventus. A genuine leader, his example has been picked up by the likes of Pogba, Morata and Roberto Pereyra, with the talented young trio now matching the ferocious work ethic of the former Manchester City star whenever they take to the field. Yet Tevez allies that famous tenacity with genuine ability, whether in terms of his accuracy in front of goal or his incredible technical ability on the ball. Able to beat defenders and goalkeepers with consummate skill, he deserves to be part of the conversation whenever the world’s very best players are discussed.
Dermot: This just cannot be anyone other than Messi, who stands head and shoulders above even fantastically talented teammates like Neymar, Suarez and Iniesta. Even while playing in a new more withdrawn right-sided playmaking role, the 27-year-old has scored 58 goals this season, including two in the Copa final last weekend, one of which is amongst the best goals of his entire career. Messi has also scored in both his previous Champions League finals, and Barca won them both too. He needs just one goal against Juve to move ahead of Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and become the 2014/15 Champions League top-scorer. Unless the Serie A champions can find a way to at least hamper his contribution to the game, they’ve no chance of winning.
Adam: Juventus 2-1 Barcelona at 19.00. If this were a two-legged tie, the Catalan giants would perhaps be certain winners, but over the course of a single game, anything is possible.