As hard as we try not to think about it, as much as we offer our minds scant distraction, deep down we all know that everything we do this week, is all in anticipation of the Champions League(CL) final on Saturday evening.
We are all just going through the motions, desperately waiting for Saturday to arrive. You’ve certainly already planned where, and with whom you are going to watch it, and most importantly, who is providing the beverages. Is it just me or do these kind of weeks always feel longer?
These are the kind of days sports fans live for. The intensity, the passion, and the splendour of a major final simply can not be trumped. In any non World Cup year, CL Final day is by far the biggest day in Football. Coming up I discuss my five reasons why either side could be crowned champions of Europe after the colossal ninety minutes in Berlins’ magnificent Olympiastadion are done and dusted.
Barcelona are clear favourites, and by some distance too in some minds. The team that Luis Enrique has at his disposal is the envy of managers worldwide, and even perhaps seasoned Football Manager veterans. Here, their top five reasons why they could, and probably will win.
Lionel Messi: Cliché I know, my football illiterate grandmother could have come up with this. It is just impossible to overlook the mercurial Argentinian. It can be argued that Messi is in the form of his life, which for Juventus defenders, is a frightful statement. Big games are his bread and butter, he absorbs pressure like a sponge and exudes confidence. His touch, speed and vision all put together make up an incredibly unfair package. Some people are blessed with no footballing ability, meanwhile this guy seems to have been blessed with all of it. Come Saturday night, expect something outrageous, or at least something that will cause you to make some form of strange noise you would not necessarily make in your work place. Having only managed, by his standards, a paltry 43 goals and 18 assists, Messi will undoubtedly be eager to add to his tally.
The Supporting Cast: If you can somehow find a way to shut down Messi, there is only the small matter of having the likes of Luis Suarez and Neymar firing at his side to worry about. Along with Messi, this terrifying trio have plundered 120 goals between them in all competitions this season, striking fear into defenders hearts and enchanting football lovers world wide with the miraculous ease they show in finding the goal. You only ever see those kinds of numbers when playing Manager Mode, on the easiest setting a FIFA game has to offer.
Treble Attractions: Having already won the La Liga and Copa Del Rey titles, (poor chaps) Barcelona will be desperate to secure the treble, if only because their trophy cabinet is probably specially tailored to house these three massive trophies. Only once has a Barcelona side completed a domestic, league and European treble when Pep Guardiola oversaw an astounding first season. Enriques’ group will have their eyes firmly set on becoming the second, because apparently two trophies is not enough.
Possession, Possession, Possession: The statistics here are mind boggling. Barcelona have averaged 60.95% possession in the CL this season and they have the highest passing accuracy in the tournament of 88.3%. For a team with players of the ilk of Andres Iniesta, consistent possession is always likely to lead to goals, especially with that bonkers striking trio he has in front of him.
Specialist Goalkeepers: Having only made starts in the CL and Copa Del Rey this season, Marc Andre ter-Stegen is the joint leading goalkeeper in terms of clean sheets in the CL. The young German has kept six in this season’s tournament. A firm shot stopper and cool under pressure, ter-Stegen has already showed class beyond his years, and will look to continue to do so in his first CL final. As if Germany do not have enough goalkeeping talent already.
Now to our underdogs. Having cruelly denied the world an El Classico final, after a brilliant, gritty performance against Real Madrid, Italian champions Juventus come into the game with little weight of expectation on their shoulders, and perhaps that is the way they like it.
Andrea Pirlo: You can not find a cooler head on wiser shoulders in the world football at the moment. The Italian stalwart has seen it all, and basically won it all too. With a staggering 114 CL appearances under his belt, and having only won the tournament twice, (poor chap) Pirlo is drowning in experience, and will be unaffected and unmoved by all the hype surrounding this Barcelona team. He will just quietly go about his business as that is his way, unless of course he pops up with an absurd, physics busting free kick that will leave us mortals with faces aghast, and tongues unable to form audible words. Returning to the site of his 2006 World Cup triumph, Pirlo is on the brink of adding another winner’s medal to his mammoth collection, because everyone deserves to win at least three CL’s.
Gianluigi Buffon: This guy has been around for what feels like forever. Buffon shares the leading goalkeeper mantle with his opposite number having kept six sparkly clean sheets of his own. With 95 Cl appearances to his name, its fair to say he has been around the block. He has however, never won the CL, with only a tarnished runners up medal gathering dust from 2003. For someone who has won everything else he has played in at least once, bar the European Championship, but including a World Cup, that will undoubtedly be a sore spot he will want to heal come Saturday night.
Treble Attractions: That is right, just to add an extra heap of occasion onto an already burgeoning occasion pie, Juventus are also gunning for a monumental triple. Only seven sides in the history of the game have achieved the treble that Barcelona and Juventus are dreaming of. Juventus would be the second group of Italians to achieve this ridculous feat. If that in itself does not motivate one to play the game of their life, I do not know what will. With the Scudetto settling back into the cosy home it has kept for the last four years and the Copa Italia joining it, the “trophy with the big ears” would not go amiss in a chocker block trophy cabinet.
Massimiliano Allegri: In his first season as manager of Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri has made quite an impression, simply blowing expectations sky high out of the water. Allegris’ side were by no means expected to make the CL final at the beginning of the season, yet here they are, 90 minutes away from writing their names into the annuls of history. Juventus’ performance against Real Madrid was a tactical master class, as they frustrated Real Madrid to the point of no return, as was the case for Carlo Ancelotti . It is going to take something really special to win on Saturday, but with a special manager like Allegri at the helm, expect some precise, brave, and genius tactics from the Italian side.
Speed and Solidity: Having read about a thousand different articles from about a thousand different pundits, it is clear that counter attacking football is probably the Italian’s best chance. The loss of Giorgio Chiellini to injury is undoubtedly a blow, but with Pirlo sitting just in front of the defenders, players of the like of Claudio Marchisio, Stephan Lichtsteiner, and three time finalist Patrice Evra, the Juventus backline looks more than sturdy enough to take on the challenge posed by Barcelona’s fantasy football attack. Looking forward, dynamite players such as Carlos Teves, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Alvaro Morrata are all world class in their own right, and in the blink of an eye can shift the ball out of defence and pop it into the back of the net before Luis Suarez can even say Giorgio Chiellini, or heaven forbid, bite him.
Whatever the result on Saturday, we are in for a titanic clash. Barcelona will be unrelenting going forward, while Juve will be desperate to give no quarter in defence. Either way, I will not be taking my eyes off my television screen, even if it kills me, which may well happen considering the heart stopping footballing talent that will be on show.