Club football’s biggest match will pit two sides of completely contrasting styles against each other, making this Champions League final one of the most intriguing in recent years.
Although both Barcelona and Juventus will be united in their desire to be crowned champions, their approach, among many other things that will be discussed in this detailed preview, could not be more dissimilar.
The reason this match promises to be such a spectacle is due to the massive contrast between the two clubs. Barcelona have blitzed their way past any and every opponent put in front of them whilst Juventus have relied on a series of solid displays to secure their place in the final.
To frame this article, of which the differences between the two teams is the focus, I have compiled a table of statistics taken from the official UEFA website to hammer home my point about this final being a clash of two entirely different entities.
Eddie Hearn would have a field day promoting this. There are so many different ways you can spin it, with the statistics above only revealing a small part of why this final is so fascinating.
In this preview I’ll be channelling the inner silver tongued boxing promoter within in me, highlighting all the small battles set to take place within the war that is the Champions League final itself.
1. UNSTOPPABLE FORCE VS IMMOVABLE OBJECT
The first of the four battles set to unfold in this year’s final is very much of a tactical nature. The Champions League final sees one of the deadliest attacking forces in European football come up against one of its meanest defensive units.
It couldn’t be more ‘unstoppable force meets immovable object’ if it tried.
Barcelona’s attacking trio are very much the source of their strength. Despite initial difficulties getting Messi, Neymar and Suarez to gel together; this trio have gone on to form a formidable partnership, scoring more than 100 goals between them. A ridiculous feat that most teams, let alone three players, struggle to accomplish in just one season.
Barca’s game revolves around the lethality and potency of this attacking trident, giving them the ability to outscore any opponent should they have to. Their midfielders are tasked with winning the ball and giving it to these three players, whether in a goalscoring position or not, their first thought is to find the front men.
To have any hope of beating them means stopping (or at least trying to) Barcelona’s attacking marvels from having an impact on the game. A task that Bayern in particular found out was even harder than it already seems.
As you may have seen from the statistics on the first page, Barcelona are in fact second in goals scored and other attacking statistics, with their semi-final conquests, Bayern Munich, lying in first place in most cases.
Barcelona overcame the Bundesliga champions by outscoring them. Where Bayern could not score against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, the same impotence did not fall upon the Barcelona attack in the return leg. Neymar’s two goals in this match ensuring their passage to the final was a simple one, despite shipping three themselves.
Gladiators of Juventus
However, Juventus are not Bayern. The Italian side will not look to meet Barcelona in the middle, far from it.
They find themselves seventh in the goalscoring charts, and considering they have played more games than most other sides, the truth behind the 16 goals they have managed during their campaign is better reflected by their goals per game statistic.
Lying 14th in this case, it is clear that scoring goals is not Juventus’ number one priority. Scoring them is all well and good, but not conceding them seems more important to the Italian side. They pride themselves on their ability to keep a clean sheet.
Conceding a goal every other game (0.58) means their apparent lack of goals at the other end is far from a problem. The defenders and goalkeeper bear the brunt of this responsibility, but just as Barcelona’s attacking talent is buffed by a group of creative midfielders behind them, Juventus’ defence is marshalled by a battalion of tenacious midfielders.
Vidal and Marchisio in particular, despite being an outlet in attack at times, are the gatekeepers that look to sniff out and remove any threat before their backline has to trouble themselves with the problem.
They were pivotal in applying relentless pressure to Real Madrid in the semi final, forcing them in to mistakes with makeshift midfielder Sergio Ramos’ misplaced passes and all round poor performance a testament to their work.
Attack vs Defence
Barcelona triumphed over Bayern Munich as fire met fire. Their superior attacking talent shone through in a match where the opposition tried to match their style and approach to the game, as it would against any team attempting the same.
But despite dispatching opposition teams who try to match them in attack, they have however succumb to more defensive tactics in the past.
David Moyes’ Real Sociedad stole all three points thanks to a superb rearguard display earlier in the season and given Juventus’ defence is undeniably cut from a much finer cloth, the Italian side may in fact have a better chance of winning than Bayern before them, despite being arguably a weaker side.
Juventus have shown that they are a match for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, so it could be that once again when faced with a team unwilling to match them blow for blow in attack, Barcelona come unstuck in their efforts to break through.
Should Juventus withstand the barrage of attacks likely to come their way, their resoluteness in defence may well be rewarded with a chance to snatch away a trophy that many believe already to be in Barcelona’s hands.
If Lionel Messi is Barcelona’s superman then Juventus’ dogged defensive mentality could well be the Kryptonite that defeats him.
2. OVERWHELMING FAVOURITES VS THE UNDERDOGS
Regardless of what advantage they may or may not have in terms of contrasting approaches to the game, there is no doubt Juventus come in to the match as the underdog, the dark horse of the competition.
The Italian side were ranked 14th in this year’s UEFA rankings, with their upcoming opponents sitting high and mighty in second. Although their quality has never been doubted, their ranking suggests, as well as performances in previous campaigns, the Old Lady are rarely given a chance in the face of Europe’s elite.
Their first final since their penalty shootout defeat to Milan in 2003 (that campaign was also their last semi-final before this year’s clash with Real Madrid) it is clear that any dreams of Champions League success have for so long been exactly that.
Domestic trophies have come in abundance, this year being no different. Winning the league yet again, Juventus completed the domestic double by defeating Lazio in the recent cup final.
Putting Italian opposition to the sword has not been a problem for Juventus,be it this season or in the past.
The Champions League has been the scourge of Juventus for just over a decade now, but with Allegri’s men already conquering one demon in actually reaching the final, they will no doubt be looking to overcome the odds so heavily stacked against them in going one better and winning the competition for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Barcelona on the other hand are many peoples’ favourite to win it, year in, year out. This year has been no different, progressing through the competition with relative ease, scoring freely and embarrassing even the toughest of opponents along the way.
Last year’s quarter final exit was the first time they had failed to reach the semi finals since failing to progress from the last 16 in the 2006/7 season (despite winning it the year before). Their dominance of the competition, or at least their consistency in it, has been incredible.
In the 12 years it has taken Juventus to reach the hallowed ground of a Champions League final yet again, Barcelona have lifted the trophy on three separate occasions.
David and Goliath
Many think Barcelona will prove too strong for the Italian side, condemning them to 20 years of Champions League failure, whilst adding a fourth of their own in just half the time.
Despite Juventus’ impressive semi-final triumph over Madrid, it seems visions of them actually lifting the trophy in the face are Barcelona are few and far between. And in many ways, for good reason.
3. GENERATION GAME
So we have the age old clash of styles, as well as the classic David v Goliath matchup thrown in to the mix. But now we move to yet another of the final’s four fascinating themes.
The average age of players used by Barcelona and Juventus in this year’s competition is 25 and 28 respectively. The three year gap does not seem huge, but when focussing once again on the battle between attack and defence, the gap only widens in favour of the Spanish champions.
Wisdom and Experience
With the likes of Pirlo in their ranks, there’s no denying that in not shying away from using more experienced players to achieve their goals, the Old Lady has become somewhat of a prophetic nickname, best illustrated by its ageing defence.
Calling upon a living legend in the form of Buffon between the sticks, the 37-year-old is very much the senior man in the side, although not by much. The average age of the Juventus’ defensive unit, so successful in shackling the likes of Bale and Ronaldo in the semi final, was a staggering 32.
The Exuberance of Youth
In comparison, the average age of Barcelona’s front three comes in at a spritely 26, on average six years younger than the wilting back-line responsible for stopping them.
Neymar is the youngest of the three (23) whilst Messi and Suarez, 27 and 28 respectively, are by many peoples’ books in their prime. Trying to stop the lightning quick frontline of Barcelona would prove difficult for even the ripest of defences, let alone a group of players entering the twilight of their careers.
Battle of the ages… for the ages?
Whether the creaky bones of Juventus’ defenders can stay strong against Barcelona’s more fresh faced group of players will remain to be seen. But there is no denying that the age gap is yet another ingredient set to make this match a feast for the eyes.
4. EUROPE’S MOST WANTED VS A BAND OF DISCARDED MISFITS
‘Discarded misfits’ may be a bit harsh but what use is poetic license if we can’t take full advantage of it when the time arrives?
Whether too harsh or not, there is no denying that Juventus have many players in their ranks who have been famously abandoned by their previous employers. Here are the main three.
Mistakes were made
Paul Pogba left on a free from Manchester United, having become a troublesome child in the ranks. Yet United’s loss has been Juventus’ gain, with Pogba going on to become one of the brightest talents in European football, and one of the most sought after.
Injury has stunted his growth this season but that hasn’t stopped him racking up the most assists for his club in this year’s Champions League.
Pogba has more than proven his value in spite of what Ferguson may have thought and there’s no doubt that if he does leave in the summer, Juventus, contrary to United in the past, will be fighting tooth and nail to keep him. At the very least they’ll make sure they receive an offer that matches his almost immeasurable worth.
Alvaro Morata is another young player that didn’t quite cut the mustard in the eyes of his previous employers. Morata was sold by Real Madrid in the summer and, in perfectly ironic fashion, it is a move that has come back to bite them in more ways than one.
Not only have the Spanish side been lacking in the forward department this season, but it was Morata’s goals that ended up dumping them out of the competition they were looking to defend. A player they didn’t believe to be good enough turned out to be the deciding factor in their biggest game of the season. If that isn’t ironic, then I just don’t know what is.
Andrea Pirlo’s story is another riddled with irony, and for AC Milan, it’s not the funny kind. In 2011 Pirlo left AC Milan as they thought the then 32-year-old was now too ripe with old age to improve their side, deciding not to renew his contract as a result.
Step in Juventus. Just as with Pogba, Juventus recognised ability where others did not, signing the Italian maestro on a free transfer that same summer. Now for the ironic part.
Ever since Pirlo left, the Milan side have failed to win a trophy, the last of which came in Pirlo’s final season in the form of a league and cup double. On the contrary, Pirlo’s arrival at Juventus has beckoned a prolonged period of domestic dominance.
The Italian giant that was stripped of Serie A titles and relegated to Serie B in 2006 had been reborn. Despite being ‘too old’ for Milan, Pirlo has been an integral part in helping Juventus to win seven trophies in this time, with his former club, so quick to get rid of him, having won none.
The Barcelona players may not have a similarly endearing sob story behind their path to the final, but given this article is about the massive contrasts between the two clubs, I for one am glad. Barcelona’s team is far removed from the apparent second-hand style of their opponent’s, with a bit more than a shoulder to cry on needed in securing the signature of many of their top players.
Paying extortionate amounts of money for football’s biggest talents has been a key part of Barcelona’s rise to modern day giants of the game, while their controversial practices in the market even resulted in a transfer ban.
Neymar was once the hottest property in world football. Fabled for his array of tricks seen on YouTube, the Brazilian’s talent and potential attracted nearly every one of Europe’s biggest clubs, with Barcelona winning the race to sign him in 2013.
Neymar’s acquisition however was riddled with controversy. Whilst Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale is the most expensive player officially, many rumours have circulated about the money paid for Neymar behind the scenes, fees that would make the fee paid for Bale pale in comparison.
Luis Suarez, too, was purchased at similarly high price, albeit less controversially. Suarez was also one of football’s most wanted after his prolific Premier League scoring nearly carried Liverpool to an unexpected title. His antics in the World Cup perhaps forced Liverpool’s hand in selling the Uruguayan, but no matter how poorly they have spent the money, there is no doubt Barcelona paid a massive amount for his services.
Finally, Lionel Messi. Although the Argentine was not bought for a record fee, nor a series of back alley transactions, if the little magician were to leave, you would imagine every transfer record standing would be smashed in the process. Messi’s release clause stands at €250,000,000; an unfathomable amount without even mentioning the staggering wages he would likely be offered.
Net worth aside, even without considering Messi as part of Barcelona’s very expensive squad, there is no doubt a massive difference between how each finalist has assembled their teams.
Money can’t buy you happiness… or can it?
Juventus have shown faith when others have not whilst Barcelona have broken the bank, and maybe some rules, to sign those that almost every club under the sun have shown an interest in.
It’s not quite Prince and the Pauper, but their respective transfer activity is yet another way in which these teams differ, representing completely different values in not only their approach but their deepness of pocket as well.
THE FINAL OF ALL FINALS
There is no doubt these contrasting approaches and styles make the upcoming final an absorbing one, a contest on so many different levels.
- Is attack the best form of defence? Or will the art of defending yet prove its worth?
- Will Goliath finally be able to rewrite the fable? Or will David yet again have his day?
- Can Messi, Neymar and Suarez teach some old dogs new tricks? Or are these dogs yet to have their day?
- Does money really talk? Or will those cast away continue to prove their previous employers wrong?
Yet as exciting as all this may be, come the final on June 6, no matter the difference between money spent, average age and odds of victory, the teams will in fact be more similar than ever: united in their desire to win.
In a match of this magnitude it could all come down to something as simple, as primitive, as the will to win. Unlike the rest, an immeasurable quantity, yes. But one that could be the key to victory in spite of all these compelling battles set to take place.
I just hope the final lives up to the billing… another Mayweather v Pacquiao is the last thing we all need.