9/2 draw 3/1 6/10
The 2015 UEFA Champions League final pits Juventus against Barcelona at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on Saturday evening. The Catalans will be looking to reclaim the title for the first time since 2011 while the Bianconeri will be contesting their first final in over a decade. Juventus and Barcelona have only faced each other nine times, with the Italians holding a slight advantage with four wins and three draws in those fixtures. Both teams have proven their dominance in their respective domestic competitions, accomplishing the league/cup double this season – but will it be the Spanish or Italian champions who secure a historic Treble?
Many were left disappointed, myself included, when the all-Spanish, El Clasico party between two of the most popular football teams in the world, led by the two best players of the sport today in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, were gate-crashed by Juventus. Worse, the killjoy Italians locked up the gates before Los Blancos could even enter. In honest truth, they were absolutely brilliant in both legs against Real Madrid and fully deserved their place in the final. It was difficult to see where Massimiliano Allegri could take Juventus after a record-breaking 2013/14 season. A domestic double and a final in Berlin is an emphatic reply. Now they face a whole new different monster, and a three-headed one at that, in Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Juventus’ defence better watch out. Barcelona is the team to have scored more than five times in a game on the most occasions in the competition. They’ve done the deed a lethal 15 times. The likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra will need to be rock solid. The firepower of this Juventus team should provide their counterpart a run for their money with the combination of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez. In Pirlo, Allegri has his shred tinkerer, an exuberant dynamo in Pogba, Vidal’s warrior mentality and the disciplined engine of Claudio Marchisio. By no means is this Juventus brigade to be ruled out before a ball has even been kicked. In attack, Tevez is a tenacious player, who can strike at a moment’s notice, especially when Juve is on the counter. Barcelona’s defence is not compact. It has its misfires and struggles against quicker forwards. Tevez and Alvaro Morata are speedy strikers and will likely give the likes of Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique major headaches. Juventus may be considered the dark horses to lift “big ears”, but the Serie A champions—who sealed their fourth successive Scudetto—possess some superstar weapons of their own and that was evident when they dethroned the kings.
Luis Enrique’s maiden campaign at the helm of Barcelona wasn’t always the smooth ride it seems now. At the start of the year the Barcelona manager appeared to have completely lost the Barcelona dressing room, and his opposite number at Real Madrid Carlo Ancelotti had just taken his team on a run of 22 victories. One man was all set to be given a new contract, and the other looked ready to be given the boot. Five months later it is Ancelotti out of work – while Enrique is hoping to make history by winning the treble in his first season. The Catalans started slowly in the competition and lost 3-2 to Paris St. Germain in Group F, but the knockout stages saw them find another gear and as Enrique’s grip on the squad has progressed, so too has their hunt in front of goal. Putting three goals past Manchester City in the round of 16 was an achievement, but notching five against each of PSG and Bayern Munich in the quarter- and semi-finals respectively raises the question as to whether anyone can stop them. Andres Iniesta is the puppeteer in midfield, pulling the strings in attack and creating chance after chance even when his pass is not the final one before the ball is dispatched into the back of the net. He will cause Juventus all sorts of problems with his free roaming, dropping deeper to involve himself in play and getting further forward when Barca have possession to both create and score goals. This will be Xavi’s final game for Barcelona before he departs for Qatar. He will be hoping to end his 24 year career with the Catalonians with what could be his fourth European title. The divine trinity of Suarez, Messi and Neymar—perhaps one of the greatest attacking combinations in football history despite still being in its infancy—will continue to play an instrumental role for Enrique. This trio combined has 78 goals in Spain and 25 in the Champions League. Suarez has found life at Barcelona quite good for himself with 24 goals and 17 assists in the two major competitions while Neymar is enjoying a historic year with 38 goals and six assists. Messi of course is having a stellar season with 53 goals and 27 assists, his finest since 2012-13 when he notched 60 goals and 16 assists. With the world’s premier striker at the top of his game, there’s little doubt Barcelona will be in top form against Juventus. The stage is set for Messi to further enhance his credentials for the crown of the best player of all time and look to become the first player to score in three Champions League finals and for Barcelona to join Bayern and Liverpool as five-time European champions.
Buffon; Lichsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra; Pirlo, Vidal, Marchisio; Pogba; Morata, Tevez
Ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Barcelona are heavy favourites at 6/10 while Juventus are priced at 9/2. The powerful Italians have a solid backline but the Catalans are in the kind of form able to unlock any defence. The likes of Messi, Suarez and Neymar should prove too much of a threat for the Old Lady and I’m tipping them to claim the Champions League title in 90 minutes.