As Barcelona battle with Juventus to claim the coveted Champions League trophy, we look at four players from each outfit who can make a difference tonight
While a lot of attention before the final has been focussed on midfielder Xavi finishing his Barcelona career tonight by hoisting the Champions League trophy, Pirlo, who has established himself as the fulcrum of the Juventus midfield, is also rumoured to be on his way out from the Italian side after this season. If the 36-year-old does move, he will want to leave with memories of winning a third Champions League winners’ medal, especially since the last time he was in the final (with AC Milan in 2005), he was heartbreakingly denied victory by Liverpool.
There is no doubt over the 22-year-old’s talent. The Frenchman, who was allowed to leave Manchester United, is one of those rare physically imposing footballers who are also blessed with exceptional dribbling ability. These attributes have made him one of the most coveted players in the world at the moment with Manchester City and Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona all rumoured to be sniffing around. A strong performance tonight could only increase his value in the transfer market.
Barcelona boast of a fearsome forwardline comprising Messi, Neymar and Suarez. By contrast, Juventus look like lightweights in attack, having scored just 16 goals in 12 matches in the tourney. However, in Tevez they have a bundle of tireless energy with a knack for finishing. The striker is Juventus’ spearhead, having racked up seven goals and two assists for the Turin heavyweights in the competition. Tevez will have a point to prove tonight, having been on the losing side for Manchester United against Barcelona in his last Champions League final appearance.
At 37, he is already a legend. However, the Champions League trophy is one that has forever eluded him. He came close back in 2003, when Juventus lost in the shoot-out against AC Milan at Old Trafford, despite the ’keeper saving two penalties. Putting that heartbreak behind him will be topmost on Buffon’s mind. Having won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, which will host today’s final, he will have happy memories of the ground. His battle against Messi, Neymar and Suarez will be one of the biggest sub-plots of tonight’s game.
Juventus have six players among the top 10 in the Champions League who have covered the most distance with Stephan Lichtsteiner (1,35,158 metres) having run the most in the competition
Number of years since Juventus last appeared in a Champions League final
After watching Cristiano Ronaldo claim the Ballon d’Or following a largely forgettable 2014, Messi has had one of the best five months of his career in 2015, even by his own lofty standards. He has seemed unstoppable at times, like when he beat four defenders to score in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, and has netted a whopping 58 goals and created 26 more in the 56 matches he has played so far this season, including 10 goals in the Champions League. This is just the kind of stage that will spur him on.
The Brazilian forward copped some flak during Barcelona’s Copa del Rey final victory over Athletic Bilbao for showboating, but on his day he can be an amazing player to watch. His ball control and dribbling abilities are reminders why he is currently Brazil’s best footballer. In the Champions League, he is only one goal behind the tournament’s top-scorers — teammate Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Ronaldo and will be privately itching to end the competition as the highest scorer.
Not having won too many trophies during his time at Ajax and Liverpool, he will be even more motivated to help Barca hoist their (and his) third trophy this season tonight. The Uruguayan may not have scored as many goals as he did for Liverpool last season, but it is his signing that has made the Barcelona forwardline the most feared in recent times. With him moving into the centre and Messi going right, Barca have become a well-oiled machine. Between them, Suarez, Messi and Neymar have scored 120 goals, with Suarez netting 24 and assisting 21.
With Juventus defenders already up against the attacking trio of Messi, Neymar and Suarez, quick-silver Alves will add to their woes with his lighting-fast, overlapping runs down the right-hand flank. While he could quit the Spanish heavyweights at the end of the season, he would like to quit with the glittering Champions League trophy in his trophy cabinet. The Brazilian has four assists in the tournament — as many as Cristiano Ronaldo and just one less than teammate Lionel Messi.
Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored 25 of Barcelona’s 28 Champions League goals
Number of goals Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored amongst them this season — three less than Bayern Munich in 2014-15. While Messi has scored 58 goals (27 assists), Neymar has netted 38 times (seven assists) and Suarez has 24 strikes to his name (21 assists).
Route to the final
>> Round of 16
Juventus 2-1 Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund 0-3 Juventus
Juventus win 5-1 on aggregate
Juventus 1-0 Monaco
Monaco 0-0 Juventus
Juventus win 1-0 on aggregate
Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus
Juventus win 3-2 on aggregate
>> Round of 16
Manchester City 1-2 Barcelona
Barcelona 1-0 Manchester City
Barcelona win 3-1 on aggregate
PSG 1-3 Barcelona
Barcelona 2-0 PSG
Barcelona win 5-1 on aggregate
Barcelona 3-0 Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich 3-2 Barcelona
Barcelona win 5-3 on aggregate
Did you know?
Barcelona players have told Ivan Rakitic they will shave his head if they win tonight. The midfielder, however, has been warned by his wife Raquel Mauri against such celebrations. Mauri, Rakitic revealed, has threatened to kill him and whoever cuts his hair.
Design: Moulvi zaki Hasan
Juventus vs Barcelona: Ten Action & Ten Sports, 00:15
Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus goalkeeper
We’re not going to Berlin just to make up the numbers. This final is a massive opportunity
Paul Pogba, Juventus midfielder
We know that we’re not favourites but it’s a final. We’re going to give our all.
Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona midfielder
It’s a Champions League final and my last game for the club. It’s the ultimate dream.
Andres Iniesta, Barcelona midfielder
We are where we wanted to be but won’t just be happy with that. We want to win titles. We are in a final, and it is within our reach
Pogba vs Busquets
Despite his tender age, Paul Pogba is already one of the most commanding midfielders in the world. Powerful and intelligent, his striding runs from deep in his half are vital to Juventus’ attacking threat. Sergio Busquets is such an efficient destroyer that he has even pushed Javier Mascherano into defence. Operating as the fulcrum of Barcelona’s midfield, Busquets will not only have to account for Pogba’s runs but also keep him away from the Barcelona box before he can unleash one of his ferocious shots on goal.
Mascherano vs Tevez
Although Juventus operate with two strikers, in reality it is almost a 5-man midfield, with Carlos Tevez operating from deep. Tevez’s energy and tenacity is unique and besides being superb on the ball, it is his work ethic and constant heckling and harrowing of defenders and off-the-ball play that make him so dangerous. Javier Mascherano is the perfect opponent for Tevez, with his no-nonsense and tough tackling style. The battle of these two Argentines is crucial to the game, with both players waiting to pounce on the smallest of mistakes made by the opposition.
Text: Zarir Marfatia (stepoverandshoot. wordpress.com)
Did you know?
English heavyweights Arsenal could make as much as £3million if Barcelona win the Champions League final, thanks to their former defender Thomas Vermaelen. While the Belgian has not played a single minute for the Catalan club this season, the contract between the two clubs is rumoured to include a hefty payment should Vermaelen win the Champions League with Barcelona.
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