Juventus v Barcelona: 5 Key Battles To Watch In The Champions League Final


Step away from the FIFA drama: We have a Champions League final to look forward to and we won't let the week's events ruin it. How refreshing to know that money will be far from the minds of Juventus and Barcelona players, as these two iconic giants of European football set out to complete Trebles in Berlin.

Luis Enrique's born-again Barca are rightly favourites, having felled Bayern Munich so flippantly in the semi-finals and confidently closed out La Liga and Copa del Rey success with Lionel Messi in ridiculously rude health.

Is Messi as good as we've ever seen him? That's what some are suggesting and there's no better stage than the grandest club final of all to confirm it. Meanwhile, Luis Suarez looks as sharp as a shark bite and Neymar remains the dreamy guitar solo on top of Messi's virtuoso finger-picking.

There's more to FCB than MSN of course. Ivan Rakitic has earned rave reviews in midfield, the evergreen Andres Iniesta is still a game-changer and the likes of Gerard Pique and Dani Alves - who may be playing his last time for the club - have both excelled at the back.

Standing in the way of Enrique's team are Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus - billed correctly as prize-winning pragmatists in approach, but capable of attacking explosions all over the pitch. Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata will need serious policing, while Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal will be ready to pour into the slightest glimpse of space they see in front of them. Andrea Pirlo will do what he does best, and behind him a stereotypically stout Italian central defensive pairing will attempt to do what many think is impossible - and stop Barca scoring.

Taking things to a granular level, here are the key battles to watch.

 

Giorgio Chiellini vs. Luis Suarez

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There's only one place to start. Having taken a bite out of Chiellini's shoulder at the World Cup last year, Suarez is back in competition with the Italian and cameras will zoom for every moment they collide. Chiellini has said publicly that all is forgiven, but that doesn't mean he won't try and rile Suarez early on. He'd be mad not to, knowing the damage Suarez can inflict and the potential for volatility that will always lurk beneath.

Suarez has a come a long way in 12 months and it's hard to deny he stands as Europe's best pure striker on current form. Juve's defence will be on him like social media in the wake of a biting scandal, but there is no better wriggler in world football than the Uruguayan.

Chiellini is 2.40 to get a card

 

Carlos Tevez vs. Javier Mascherano

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Morata's aerial threat may see him passed to Pique, which means Mascherano and Tevez could be set for an all-Argentine battle of fearsome intensity. Neither man will back down, but you wonder if the instinctive sniper in Tevez could find a way to exploit his pace and leave his ex-West Ham teammate Mascherano in his wake.

Tevez is 3.85 to score at any time

 

Stephan Lichtsteiner vs. Neymar

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It's hard to identify a particular battle for Messi, as he'll drift and we shouldn't expect to see Juve attempt to man mark him. When it comes to Neymar, however, Lichtsteiner's flank will be his playground and the strong Swiss international will need to be at his very best (and most patient) to avoid picking up an early yellow, or being embarrassed.

At the same time, Lichtsteiner's decisions to get forward could dilute Neymar's influence if the Brazilian is tasked with tracking back and covering his overlaps. This one could be a defining battle, especially if central areas are as concentrated and tight as we might expect.

Lichtsteiner to get a card is 2.55

 

Arturo Vidal vs. Sergio Busquets

Juventus FC v SSC Napoli - Serie A : News Photo

With Pogba likely positioned slightly to the right of midfield, Vidal will play through the middle and meet Busquets head on. What we have here is two physically intense midfielders who will be looking for every advantage possible. Expect tackles to fly early on and don't be surprised if the battle of these two provokes a yellow or worse on Saturday.

Vidal to get a card is 2.55

 

Gianluigi Buffon vs. Lionel Messi

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Remember the remarkable battle that played out between Joe Hart and Messi at the Etihad earlier this season? We might just see a repeat in Berlin, with the 37-year-old Buffon up against one of the greatest finishers the game has ever seen. There's nothing Juve can do to stop Messi having opportunities, so it may well come down to Buffon's performance in goal to decide who wins this final.

If the veteran plays a defining match of his career, Juve can spring an upset. If he's found wanting at his near post early on, the Old Lady could be in for a very long night indeed.

Messi is 5.50 to score two or more 

 

Final Prediction

It's got to be Barcelona. Their attacking threat is just so potent it's hard to imagine Juve restricting them to less than two goals. I'm going for a 3-1 Barca win at 14.00, in a tight game that is settled by two Messi goals in the last 20 minutes.