Juve, Barca Clash For Treble In Berlin
Both Juventus and Barcelona are looking to cap fantastic seasons by completing rare trebles when they meet in the Champions League final at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on Saturday.
Juventus are appearing in their first Champions League final in 12 years as they look to win the European Cup for the third time, but Barcelona, inspired by Lionel Messi, are the favourites to win a fifth European Cup and fourth in the last decade.
Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri and his Barcelona counterpart Luis Enrique have already enjoyed excellent debut seasons in charge of their respective clubs, both winning domestic league and cup doubles, and both are now within touching distance of making it a glorious treble.
For Barcelona, it would be a second such treble following their fantastic first season under Pep Guardiola in 2008-09, but such an achievement is very rare indeed.
Only six other clubs have ever won a domestic league and cup double and the European Cup in the same season, with Celtic’s Lisbon Lions of 1967 the first.
Since then, Ajax (1972), PSV Eindhoven (1988), Manchester United (1999), Inter Milan (2010) and Bayern Munich (2013) have repeated the feat.
Barcelona can therefore become the first club to do it twice, and their current team contains several members of that 2009 vintage under Guardiola.
“We are still a young team. There are still quite a few players from the Guardiola era,” said Luis Enrique. “This could turn out to be an historic season for us.”
Juventus, meanwhile, will either join that elite group of clubs or become the first club to have lost six European Cup finals.
The Italian champions’ main task is to blunt Barcelona’s razor-sharp attack of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez which has sliced through defences on the road to Berlin.
The South American trio have scored a stunning 120 goals between them this season, compared to the 103 managed by the entire Juventus team.
With 58 goals in all competitions, four-time world player of the year Messi is in the best form of his illustrious career, but Juventus can ill-afford to focus on containing his talents alone.
Messi destroyed Guardiola’s Bayern Munich with two goals in the first leg of their semi-final before setting up Neymar for the third at the Camp Nou.
But in the return it was Suarez and Neymar who did the damage, combining for two first-half goals at the Allianz Arena which put the tie beyond Bayern.
To make Juve’s task even harder, centre-back Giorgio Chiellini was ruled out of the final after tearing a calf muscle in training.
– ‘Game of our lives’ –
But Juventus have neither flown to Berlin just to witness Messi’s magic first hand nor do they wish to see him become the first player to score in three Champions League finals.
“This is the game of our lives,” said Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, their sole survivor from their last Champions League final, the defeat to AC Milan in 2003.
“I would always want to be starting off as a favourite, but we have our weapons to try and make Barcelona’s job more difficult,” added Buffon, who along with Pirlo won the World Cup at the same stadium with Italy in 2006.
With four consecutive Serie A titles behind them, Allegri’s side carry a wealth of experience.
“They have that Italian competitive edge. It is always difficult to overcome that because they are very, very competitive,” said Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano.
“They are very tactical. They understand football and on top of that they have a lot of talent.”
Four of their squad have already won the Champions League with other clubs — Andrea Pirlo with Milan in 2003 and 2007; Patrice Evra and Carlos Tevez with Manchester United in 2008 and Alvaro Morata with Real Madrid last year.
Despite celebrating his 36th birthday last month, Pirlo remains a menace in midfield and his potential battle with Xavi Hernandez, on his final appearance for Barcelona, promises a fascinating sub-plot to the Berlin final.
Juve, who reached the final by knocking out holders Real Madrid 3-2 on aggregate in their semi-final, welcomed Italian international defender Andrea Barzagli back to training on Wednesday after a spell out with a thigh strain.