Make mine a treble!

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2015-6-5 5:03:03

Barcelona favorites for European crown but Juventus eye an upset

Lionel Messi of Barcelona controls the ball during a training session ahead of their Champions League final against Juventus on Tuesday in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: CFP

Two of European football's biggest names go head to head for the Champions League trophy in Berlin on Saturday night. Barcelona are looking for their fifth European crown, three of which have come in the last decade, while the Old Lady of Italian football hopes to be champions of Europe for a third time, in their first appearance in the final for 12 years.

Much of the attention is on the man his own manager recently called "the greatest player in history," Lionel Messi. Little else needs said about Barcelona's Argentinian forward after yet another record-breaking season. Messi is in the form of his life, a two-goal haul in last weekend's Copa del Rey decisive in securing the second step of his club's latest treble bid, as they aim to repeat the feat of 2009.

Messi has 12 goals in the Champions League this season and is clearly the man to stop in Berlin as he hopes to lift his fourth Champions League but Juventus know ­better than to focus on one player. Barcelona's all-time record scorer might be the most illustrious of the Catalan side's attacking trident but only a fool would discount the contributions of Neymar and Luis Suarez, in his first season at the Camp Nou. The trio have already scored 120 goals between them this season and it's up to the Turin side to stop them playing.

Defensive foundation

That is a role that suits the Italians. They may be second favorites to win the tie but they have made it to the final on merit, overcoming a shaky start to the group stage to surge past Real Madrid in the semifinal. It should not be forgotten that they are on course for a treble of their own and will do everything in their power to win this game.

Unlike Barcelona's attitude of merely outscoring the opposition, the bedrock of the champions of Italy is their defense.

In this season's Champions League campaign, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and ­defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo ­Bonucci and Stephan Lichtsteiner have been ever present, playing 12 games each, as has forward Carlos Tevez. Contrast this with the Barcelona team, where only the ­undroppable Messi and Marc-Andre ter ­Stegen have played every game and it becomes apparent that much of Juve's strength is based on a solid base and consistency.

Positive headlines

The commonly shared view is that this is the final necessary for the beautiful game to make headlines for the right reasons amid the ongoing FIFA scandal and the stories around the game make for a fascinating match ahead.

Suarez, playing in his first-ever Champions League final, is coming up against Chiellini, the player he bit at last year's World Cup to postpone the start of his Barcelona career via a four-month ban. Ever the source of controversy in his willingness to do anything to win, Suarez is also likely to face Patrice Evra, a player he has racially aggravated previous with from their time at Liverpool and Manchester United. Meanwhile, the Uruguayan strike's partner, Neymar, is also playing in his first European showpiece, and the man who carried a nation on his shoulders until his back gave out last summer admits to being "very anxious" ahead of the game.

On the other side, this game marks the debut final for the hottest property in European football, Juventus tyro Paul Pogba. The Frenchman may well be playing his last game for the Old Lady ahead of an inevitable transfer tug-of-war between the biggest clubs in Europe this summer.

This could also be the swan song of both Buffon and the midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo. European Cup medals are the only thing that both are yet to add to their packed shelves and exorcising that particular ghost could well precipitate retirement.

Regardless, it certainly is the last game of Xavi's illustrious Barcelona career. The Catalans' record appearance maker and serial trophy winner is moving to Qatar and has vowed to bow out with another Champions League winner's medal. The football world has been effusive in its praise for the Catalan, and rightly so, with many seeing a victory on Saturday as the fitting end to a career that has defined the style of his all-conquering club and national teams.

There is no guarantee that will happen, of course. Under Luis Enrique, Barcelona have abandoned the possession-based control that passed teams to death, and won two Champions League finals, under Pep Guardiola. In their semifinal against ­Guardiola's Bayern Munich they conceded goals, as they have done all season. If ­Juventus can frustrate their opponents' attack-minded tendencies then they will surely have chances to score and Pirlo's ­set-delivery may prove crucial on the night.

The last word in this final might well come from a Spaniard but they could be wearing the black-and-white stripes of ­Juventus. Spanish strikers Alvaro Morata and Fernando Llorente have played 19 games and scored five goals between them in this season's Champions League. ­Another strike from either could shock Europe.

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