Soccer fans, rejoice, for we have been gifted a dream Champions League Final. In one corner you have the hyperbole-busting attacking triumvirate of Messi-Neymar-Suarez and Barcelona. In the other stands an Italian stalwart, long on experience and fueled by the world's best young midfielder.
Juventus offers the Spanish giants a challenge they haven't yet seen — a team that simultaneously disrupts and controls the pace of the game. Barcelona is rightfully favored, but if there's one thing I've learned in my life it's this: Never count out Italians, especially when Pirlo and Buffon are involved.
Here are five reasons why Juventus will pull the upset in Berlin.
The two-headed monster
The biggest question — and arguably the only one that matters — going into this Saturday’s Champions League Final is can Juventus stop Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez? The task can’t fall to the defense alone, and with the Turin club’s personnel, it won’t. If Juventus has any advantage on the pitch, beyond keeper Gigi Buffon, who is an all-time talent, it could be in the midfield where Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba represent two of the more complete players in soccer.
Barcelona relies on a rhythmic passing game with Xavi as the impresario and Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic in support. The best way to offset that style is with pressure and pace, which is where Juventus’ two-headed monster comes in. Both Vidal and Pogba run with the force of Formula 1 cars and the control of Honda Civics. They can slow play down, or they can ratchet it up to a level that would leave Barca’s midfielders, none of whom are fleet of foot, chasing more than they’d like.
With Claudio Marchisio as the rock between midfield and defense and the bulldoggish Carlos Tevez, a tireless worker in his own right, pressuring from up top, Juve suffocates the midfield from both ends. Barca will force the ball to its enviable attacking trio, which will inevitably lead to turnovers. Then, Pogba and Vidal counter. At least, that’s the plan.
Pogba is really, really good
Maybe I didn’t emphasize it enough in the above section, because I was trying to make a larger point. Paul Pogba is quite good, and soon he’ll have a price tag that will put a number on just how good he is. For now, watch these highlights.
Barcelona fans might fear the rangy Frenchman on Saturday, but that feeling will dissipate in time — the Catalan club is rumored to be the front-runner in the 2015 Pogba Sweepstakes.
The old guard
Nine years ago, Andrea Pirlo and Buffon won the World Cup for Italy in the same stadium they’re set to play for the Champions League title. The trip to Berlin will mark a welcome return for two men who are legends for club and country. It will also mark a fitting end. Pirlo, 36, will join New York City FC later this summer. Despite his age — or maybe because of it — Pirlo still possesses the uncanny ability to slow the game down to his pace. Against the likes of Xavi (his chief rival in "the best midfielder since Zidane" debate), he’ll be challenged more than he’s been all season. But the Italian has also had sufficient rest. Juve locked up the Serie A trophy long ago, winning the league by 17 points over second-place Roma. Pirlo will be fully fit for his last hurrah on the European stage. That doesn’t mean he’ll sprint, though.
As for Buffon, at 37 he’s won everything there is to win in soccer with the exception of the Champions League. He came agonizingly close 12 years ago when Juve lost to rival AC Milan on penalties. This is likely his last shot. Buffon has been with Juventus through it all, from a match-fixing scandal to a season in Serie B. A final trophy in a case full of them could cement his legacy as the greatest keeper of his era.
Barcelona is due for a slip-up
I don't believe this title even as I write it, but the section needed a heading. Here's my point. Teams that enjoy success for a long period of time, regardless of sport, tend to eventually slip into complacency. The more you win, the less meaningful a win becomes. The better you play, the less you have to adjust to an opponent.
Perhaps with new blood like Suarez and Rakitic, Barcelona hasn't yet hit that point. But don't forget what happened two years ago when Bayern Munich ran Barca off the field in the Champions League semifinals. Or last summer when the Dutch dismantled Spain, full of Barcelona players, 5-1 at the World Cup.
Juventus, even without Giorgio Chiellini, who has been ruled out of the final, is as scary an opponent as Barca has seen this season.
Just in case you didn't get my earlier point.
Philadelphia born. Raised in God's country aka Duluth, Minnesota. Give me a frozen pond and an open pitch and I'll be happy. Follow me on twitter @noclassfriday