Friday, 5 June 2015

History Awaits...

You may remember that last year that ITV’s football commentator Clive Tyldsley was counting chickens at the prospect of Chelsea playing Real Madrid in the European Cup final.  Well this year he was at it again, whetting his appetite over the first ‘El Classico’ European Cup final.  Well that worked…  So where is that humble pie for Tyldsley then ITV Sport?
Steve Archibald evades Juventus defenders during Barcelona's
quarter-final win over Juventus in March 1986

Instead of Real Madrid, we have the dominant team in Italy at the moment, Juventus.  At the start of the season they lost their manager Antonio Conte, who quit to become the coach of the Italian national side.  His replacement was Max Allegri, who was sacked from his job as Milan coach in the aftermath of a defeat to lowly Sassuolo.  Despite winning the Scudetto in his first season with Milan, his appointment was a controversial one among Juventus fans, eager to see their team stay ahead of their chief rivals – namely Roma and Napoli.

Yet Allegri’s Juventus surpassed expectations, reaching their first European Cup final since 2003 – when they also deposed the holders Real Madrid in the semi-finals – and also winning their first Scuddetto & Italian Cup double since the last time Juventus dominated Italian football.  Way back in 1994/5.

Juventus will be missing their defender Giorgio Chiellini through injury, but all their other key men will be available.  Andreas Pirlo played for Milan when they beat Juventus on penalties at Old Trafford 12 years ago.  Paul Pogba only came back from injury during the semi final win over Real while Carlos Tevez will be playing in his third European Cup final, six years after losing to Barcelona while with Manchester United.  Artur Vidal has been in and out of the side (due to injuy) this season but should be fit.  Whether they play as a 3-5-2 (which I think they should) or with 4-4-2 (which has been Allegri’s preferred formation) remains to be seen.  There is however a very big obstacle in Juventus path towards emulating Inter Milan’s feat of 5 years ago – the Treble of Scudetto, Italian Cup and European Cup.
Barcelona are, of course…  of course, going for their own treble.  Six years after their own La Liga, Coppa Del Rey and European Cup treble, they’re looking to repeat that feat, becoming the first team to achieve that feat.  So many of the cast list from their last European Cup win four years ago are still at the Camp Nou.  Messi, Inniesta (both holding the cup, left, after winning in 2009), Busquets, Pique…  pretty much the spine of the side.  Not to mention Xavi Hernandez, who will be making his last appearance in a Barcelona shirt on Saturday.  I’d suspect that Rakitic will start ahead of Xavi though.

Most of the attention will be on Messi & his fellow forwards.  Both Neymar & Luiz Suarez compliment the movement of Messi and fit in with the Tiki-Taki ethos at Barcelona.  It could be argued that the reason for Barcelona’s successes this season has been down to the fluidity of Barcelona’s front line.  For that reason, I think three at the back would be a better bet for Juventus than a back four.
Gianlucca Vialli lifts the European Cup after Juventus last win in 1996

Barcelona start as favourites, and lead the head to heads between the two sides.  Juventus last win was an extra time winner in the quarter finals 12 years ago that saw them through to face Real Madrid, while their only other win came in the semi finals of the Cup Winners Cup in 1991, winning 1-0 but going out 3-1 on aggregate.  Barcelona also ended Juventus defence of the European Cup in 1986, winning 1-0 at the Camp Nou before getting a 1-1 draw in Turin (pictured above).

This will be the first European Cup Final to be staged at Berlin’s Olympiastadion and will see both Pirlo & Buffon play there for the first time since they played key roles in Italy’s World Cup win there in July 2006.  Much will depend on Juventus and how they set up their defence and (more crucially) their midfield.  If they play 4-4-2, I think this Barcelona side will win more comfortably than they will if Juventus play 3-5-2.  I suspect that Allegri will stick with his favoured 4-4-2 so we will see Barcelona lift their fourth fifth European Cup, and Fourth in 9 years.