Despite what the fan-boys may believe – this is not a mismatch, nor a foregone conclusion. If their suspicions were accurate it would have been Real Madrid in Juventus’ place in the final. I think we’ve all seen and some of us ‘liked’ and shared the memes that have filled our social media screens depicting a range of analogies where Barcelona, Bayern and Real Madrid were all hoping to draw against the relative minnows, Juventus.
Not entirely inaccurate – Forbes currently list Real Madrid as the world’s richest club with an estimated value of US$3.44 billion, currently generating more revenue than any sports team ever. Barcelona and Bayern are not far behind at $3.15 billion and $2.4 billion respectively and somewhat stark in comparison dwarfing Juventus’ total value of $837 million. However the full-time result in Madrid sparked a huge response with serval images of a zebra delivering a swift kick to a lion’s face filling Facebook newsfeeds.
As fate would have it, the universe has in fact granted us a worthy final: La Liga Champions v Serie A Champions - the competitions best attack v its best defence and I mean that more than in a statistical sense. If you were to blindly follow stats it would mean you consider Dejan Lovren as the finest centreback this Premier League season. Before anyone has a chance to quote the numbers; Juventus have conceded 7 goals this UCL campaign at an average of 0.58 conceded/match. Whilst Atletico Madrid did concede fewer and at a lower average of one goal every two matches, the reality is that Diego Simeone and his merry men do not exactly have an adventurous approach.
On the attacking front, Barcelona has amassed an impressive 28 goals in 12 matches. Whilst Bayern had scored 33 in the same amount of matches, factor out the Bavarian’s 7-1 crushing of Roma and it suddenly seems not as impressive.
Beyond the numbers, it’s no secret that Neymar, Suarez and Messi form the most impressive frontline this competition has seen in some time while at the other end of the spectrum Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, Lichtsteiner and Evra, (and Barzagli when employing a 3-5-2) have looked as if they’re being controlled by a single user in a videogame.
Here in lies the debate - Which triumphs; an extremely talented or an extremely organised side?
What we need to understand is in order to win the Champions League or any cup tournament in general; you need a certain degree of luck. Have you ever wondered why the domestic league is considered more prestigious than its cup equivalent? It’s because on any day, any team can beat any other. But if both those teams were to play 38 matches each, the stronger would almost inevitably finish on top.
The odds definitely favour Barcelona – bookmakers have Barcelona @1.36 to lift the trophy compared to Juventus @3.25, however the bianconeri have “already beaten Real Madrid over two legs which is certainly harder than beating Barcelona in one” – Michael Ballack, who has tipped an upset victory for the Italians.
Looking forward, football is a game of centimeters where any slip up will most certainly be punished. The reality is that Juventus will need to play perfect game to match Barcelona. The entire team will have to remain focused from start to finish as any lapse in concentration will see them put to the sword. Contrastingly Barcelona can afford to ride their luck to a degree as Juventus’ attack is nowhere near as clinical as their own.
Taking the above into account, it’s clear that the key to Barcelona fulfilling the predictions of most (none more so than Luis Enrique who has already invited their fans to a “party” at the Nou Camp to celebrate their “guaranteed” success) is undoubtedly their front 3. Messi, Neymar and Suarez are each equally capable of filling any of the forward roles, wide or central, and offered a licence to roam into pockets of space in a bid to find themselves in one-on-one scenarios – essentially what every defender in black and white is desperate to avoid.
An interesting midfield battle will certainly unfold as each side is capable of playing a very proactive and aggressive brand of football. 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 are quite similar in the sense that each allow triangles to naturally form all over the park – the essence of maintaining possession. The class and technical excellence of Xavi, Iniesta and Rakitic will meet the dynamic trio of Vidal, Pogba and Marchisio, orchestrated by the ageless Andrea Pirlo. The two systems primary difference is the focal point of pressure of the 4-3-3 is high up the field whereas the diamond midfield focuses pressure between the lines – one reason as to why Juventus match up better against Barcelona than they would Bayern.
Juventus’ possession in their own defensive third holds a similar structure to their opponents however a forward partnership with an advanced midfielder allows for direct passing as much as it does a slow build up – this is where Juventus can turn the match on its head. Aside from being able to take the game to their opponents, they have the ability to hold possession against Barcelona’s forward press while always having the direct outlet when pressure is overwhelming or once the situation presents itself for a swift attack. Lookout for: Lichtsteiner or Evra to play a play a square ball to Pirlo for him to loft one over the defence and where Juventus’ tireless midfield will surge forward in support.