Here we are again. It is only a matter of days until the most prestigious title in European club football will be given to either Barcelona of Spain or Juventus of Italy. Who will leave the Berlin's Olympiastadion with the Champions League trophy? Here is all you need to know going into what should be one of the most exciting Champions League finals in recent memory.
Road to the Final
With five wins and one 3-2 loss at the hands of a strong Paris Saint Germain team, Barca were in impervious form in the group stages. This continued throughout the knock-out stages, with dominant performances against Manchester City and PSG. Things were meant to get tougher in the semi finals against Bayern Munich, a team that 2 years previously defeated their Spanish rivals 7-0 across two legs. However, a heavily depleted Bayern team, missing numerous key players through injury, proved to be no match for arguably the best attacking trio in world football today, and despite a 2nd leg resurgence from FC Hollywood, Barca went on to progress 5-3.
Despite having an arguably easier route to the final, Juventus have at times made very hard work of their opponents. They progressed through Group A in 2nd place behind Atletico Madrid and only 1 point above 3rd placed Olympiacos, scoring only 7 goals in the process. They would then dispatch Dortmund in a 5-1 two leg demolition, but were once again goal shy in ousting Monaco by a solitary goal. It was against Real Madrid where it looked like the end of the road for the Old Lady, but an inspired performance by former Madrid player Álvaro Morata would prove to take Juventus to their first Champions League final in 12 years.
Does it need saying? Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, quite possibly the most dangerous strike force not only of today, but of all time. There were question marks over their ability to collaborate at the start of the season, but they have proved that together they can break down even the best defences that Europe has to offer. 120 goals between them this season (despite Suarez's lengthy ban at the start of the season) is a record that I cannot see ever being broken by any trio other than themselves in coming seasons. In other departments, Barcelona appear equally strong. With Ivan Rakitic proving to be stepping into the shoes of the departing Xavi in the heart of midfield, and Marc-Andrè ter Stegen being dubbed as 'the next Manuel Neuer' in goal, there appears to be very few weaknesses in what could be one of the strongest club sides in recent memory.
Where Barcelona are a team made up of individual superstars, Juventus have proved that they are a collective force. This feeds from their central midfield trio of Arturo Vidal, Andre Pirlo and Paul Pogba, each of them world class players at very different stages of their careers. The cutting passes that any of these 3 players can provide will cause any defence severe problems. Living legend Gianluigi Buffon is protected by one of the most physical defences in the world today, and this defence is where I believe Juventus could prove to be most dangerous to the Spanish side. Italian football is known for its physicality in comparison to the rest of the world, and this can be used to effectively neutralise Barcelona's talented but relatively short in stature side. At the other end of the pitch, watch out for set pieces being whipped in by Andrea Pirlo, as it is clear that Juventus have a height advantage over the Barcelona team, which could easily lead to knock-downs similar to the one that led to the goal that sent Juve through to the final.
Unsurprisingly, it is Barca who have had the better success in recent years of this competition, winning in 2006 against Arsenal and then getting the better of Manchester United on two occasions (2009 and 2011). The only other victory they have had in this competition was back in 1992. However, since the 2011 triumph, Barca have failed to make a final, losing two consecutive semis before being ousted by eventual runners up Atletico in the quarter finals last year. Although faces have come and gone in the last 3 years, the expected starting line up will still contain faces from the victorious 2011 squad.
With 2 Champions league titles to their name, Juventus' record in the competition is by no means a poor one. They have managed to reach 3 finals since their previous triumph back in 1996, losing to Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and AC Milan in 1997, 1998 and 2003 respectively. The '97 final was held in the Olympiastadion, and so Juve fans may not have fond memories of the near 70,000 capacity stadium. However, the current team is not short of big match calibre players, many having been a part of the 2006 World Cup winning Italian squad or having won the Champions League with other clubs.
Both teams are looking to complete the treble, with both having secured their respective league and cup titles. Although it does appear that this could be a David vs Goliath scenario, I would by no means rule out a 'shock' Juventus win. Although I personally still hold Barcelona as the favourites for this match, mainly due to Juve winning only 2 matches away from home in the competition, I believe that the physicality of the Italian team could test and worry Barca in ways that previous clubs this year have tried and failed to do. Will it be enough to conquer the attacking three known as 'M.S.N'? Tune in on Saturday 6th June to find out!