IT’S HERE IT’S HERE IT’S FINALLY HERE. The 2015 Champions League Final will kick off this evening from Berlin, as both Barcelona and Juventus seek the third and final piece of the treble. The Spanish champions are heavily favored, but in a one-off affair, who knows what can happen? Ahmad, Cole and Jeremy certainly don’t, but they sat down and engaged in some pre-match banter regardless.
Jeremy: Well, lads, the day is finally upon us. I, personally, think it’s a travesty we’ve been forced to wait until June 6 for the 2015 Champions League final, but our appetites shall be satisfied today. I know Ahmad’s excited because DUH, so Cole, I’ll start with you. What are you most looking forward to in this match?
Cole: I just love taking in the Champions League final day. In my opinion, it’s the best day for world football. And really I think as FIFA keeps imploding it will be more of a common thought. The soccer is better, there’s more chemistry, the managers know their teams more. It’s great.
It doesn’t matter if Barca eat up Juve — like I, and many others think they will — it’s still the best day for the sport, and I’m ready to just take it all in.
Ahmad: I mean, I’m really just looking forward for it to be over, with Barcelona hopefully victorious. #HotTake, right? But seriously, this Barcelona team has been the best team all (calendar) year, with Messi doing some things I have never seen him do before.
This might be both Xavi and Dani Alves’s last match as Barcelona players, and while plenty has been written about how much Barcelona will miss Xavi, and rightly so, not much has been said about Dani Alves (probably because Sid Lowe said it all). I’m gonna miss him, and more importantly for this football debate, Barca will too.
I want to see how Juventus handle the front three, and whether Sergio Busquets is gonna be tasked with marking Andrea Pirlo out of the game. We’ve seen Juventus handle that brilliantly last round against Madrid, when Gareth Bale man marked Pirlo. I want to see if Max Allegri handles that against this squad (he’s had some brilliant games tactics wise against Barcelona in the past, with a Milan vastly inferior to this Juve squad).
Oh, and I’d love to see some goals, preferably by the Blaugrana.
Jeremy: I’m very interested to see how Max Allegri plays things tactically without Giorgio Chiellini. The Italian international will be absent thanks to a calf injury, and his presence allowed Allegri to insert Andrea Barzagli late in games to facilitate a switch to the 3-5-2 and close games out. Remember when Luis Enrique was tactically brain-dead? Or when people on Twitter said he was? Well, if Barzagli isn’t totally fit, there’s something for him to exploit.
But irrespective of who’s in at the back for Juventus, they’ll be trying to stop the world’s best player, who wears #10 for Barcelona. Would you say that, regardless of what happens today, this has been Lionel Messi’s best-ever season? I think it has, and I’m not sure it’s particularly close. Of course, Messi has always been a lethal goalscorer, but his evolution as a passer in this 4-3-3 (along with the requisite 58 goals) has been outstanding. He will win the Ballon D’or at the end of this year.
Ahmad: In terms of stats, I don’t think anything touches 2012, when he scored 73 goals and had 29 assists in all competitions. But in terms of impact? Definitely. Messi is a threat from just behind the center circle now. He might start from the right wing, but his heat map is all over the place. He might slide in behind Suarez, play one twos with Neymar on the left, or just chill on the right and lob passes to Jordi Alba and Neymar.
He controls the way the entire team functions, without him being the end result. When he used to do that in the tail end of the Guardiola era, it seemed that everything relied on Messi making something happen. It’s not the case with this Messi.
Cole: I would definitely rate this as Messi’s best season, along with Busquets’s and Neymar’s. But for Messi, as Ahmad has touched on, he’s become the complete presence, stringing together the midfield and attacking force. It’s also been the most in touch he’s been with his attacking partners, well ever. Henry, Eto’o, and Messi were very good chemistry wise, but also were a bit more traditional in the way they played. Messi and Henry were the defacto wingers, and Eto’o played more of a striker role.
This team? It’s only Neymar really, and it’s not so much that the Brazilian isn’t talented enough as much as he’s kind of third in line in the attacking force. And even as Barca’s finisher, he still provided 7 assists.
It’s really the Messi-Suarez chemistry that’s incredible. Both play so fluidly between their roles, and really, in my opinion has been the most chemistry Messi has had with another attacker. And part of that is Lionel. He’s found a guy that he trusts to man the middle while he’s on the wing, and Luis does a fine job of still letting Messi be Messi. It’s been breathtaking football, and all three attackers have hit another level — yes including Luis, fight me EPL fans — this year.
What I’m most interested in is the real burning question, how does Juve leave with a win?
Jeremy: Juve need to score first. That is the primary objective. Once Barcelona break through, they are capable of turning a closely-contested affair into a rout within a few minutes. The most prominent example, of course, would be against Bayern Munich in the semifinals. I don’t believe Barca will put up four today – Juve’s defense is quite stout, as we know – but if there’s blood in the water, MSN will smell it. Juve need to utilize their smoldering counterattacking pace to trouble the blaugrana backline and get a lead to protect. Carlos Tevez is the man with the key to unlocking Barcelona.
Ahmad: Yeah, I’m gonna agree with Jeremy there – Tevez is key. You’d be hard pressed to find a defense that can stifle Barcelona for 90 minutes and leave them scoreless, but this squad – provided they get a lead – can do it. Losing Chiellini hurts, but I don’t think it’s as big a loss as advertised. Of the three center backs – Barzgali, Bonucci and Chiellini – I feel like Giorgio is the one who is most susceptible to making a mistake. He’s like Gerard Piqué in that regard – great defender who’s prone to an occasional brain fart. Which brings me to how Juve can get a lead – a Piqué brain fart. Carlitos will feast on that, and I don’t think Mascherano can sweep up behind Piqué if Tevez is running at him.
All right, now for the most important question: Who y’all got? I want to say it’ll be 3-1 Barcelona, but I’m not entirely confident.
Cole: Your lack of confidence in Barcelona has been well-documented, Ahmad. But yeah, 3-1 is a good score. Barcelona will likely pounce early, and I can see it getting out of hand quickly before they coast in the 2nd half.
Jeremy: If there’s one team that can frustrate and stifle that front three, it’s this one. I think this will be a close, hotly-contested final, and under the right circumstances I can see Juve catching a break and winning. But they’re heavy underdogs, fairly or unfairly. 2-1 to Barcelona, with a late winner. Not dissimilar to the 2013 final.