Europe’s greatest club prize is up for grabs as the kings of Spain and Italy meet in Saturday’s Champions League final.
Barcelona have enjoyed a stunning first season under Luis Enrique, having wrestled the Liga title back from Atletico Madrid before downing Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey. They now have the chance to seal a first treble since Pep Guardiola’s debut campaign in charge in 2009.
Juventus, meanwhile, are also on the brink of history. A fourth-successive Scudetto was followed by a Coppa Italia triumph over Lazio, meaning Massimiliano Allegri – also in his first term at the helm – could deliver the Old Lady’s greatest ever season of silverware.
Plenty of comparisons have been drawn in recent days between this Juventus side and Jose Mourinho’s Inter – the last Italian outfit to win the treble. One thing is for certain: just like Inter in 2010, Juve are better placed than any other team in the world to defeat Barcelona and win the Champions League.
Massimiliano Allegri has already warned that his side cannot afford to simply sit back and allow Barca to dictate and, while a repeat of Inter’s heroic 10-man defensive display at Camp Nou is unlikely, the Serie A champions must be prepared for large spells without the ball. They can cope with that. In beating Borussia Dortmund, Monaco and Real Madrid in the knockouts, Juve have displayed more versatility than any other side, offering some devastating attacking play whilst remaining nigh-on impervious at the back.
The Bianconeri boast both a strong team ethic and match-winning individuals. Carlos Tevez and Paul Pogba can produce the magic they need in attack; Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon are a defensive spine intimidating enough to leave even the fabled MSN feeling a little anxious, even with Giorgio Chiellini now ruled out through injury.
A midfield of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio is capable of dictating the tempo of games or simply snuffing out danger right across the middle, cutting the supply lines to any match-winning superstars further forward. Cristiano Ronaldo can attest to that.
A sense of fate surrounds the Italians as they head to Berlin – the site of their famous World Cup triumph in 2006 which came in the wake of the Calciopoli scandal. Juve’s place in the final marks the completion of their recovery from that devastating episode and gives captain Buffon – who stuck with the team in those dark days in Serie B – his best chance in over a decade at winning the only major prize that eludes him.
Juve might not be favourites, but neither were Inter in that semi-final five years ago. And Barcelona remember that better than most.
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