Barcelona will have the chance to complete one of their greatest ever seasons on Saturday when heading to Berlin’s Olympiastadion to take on Italian champions Juventus in the final of the Champions League. This past weekend the Catalan giants added the Copa del Rey crown to the Primera Division title, meaning they, like their opponents, will be going for a treble in the biggest club match of the season. For Barcelona, it would be their second ever treble and, after brushing aside a Bayern Munich side led by the man who led them to their first, Pep Guardiola, in the semifinals, they will be strong favorites to lift the trophy.
Here’s three reasons why they could claim victory over Juventus.
That front three
This could almost be reason one, two and three. There is no forward trio in the world that even comes close to the threat that Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar pose increasingly quivering defenses. The fear was that combining three players who would be the star man at almost any other team in the world into one lineup would compromise not only their own performances, but the ability of the team to function coherently. Certainly there were some early teething problems after Suárez’s signing and his return from suspension, but their unselfishness has made it click spectacularly. Already with 120 goals between them in all competitions this season, they will pose the sternest of tests even for a Juventus defense that showed impressive resilience against Real Madrid in the semifinals. Messi, Suarez and Neymar are capable of winning the game on their own, but also of combining to devastating effect with each other. While all are on top of their game, it is Messi who will inspire the greatest fear, having returned to his devastating best in recent months.
While the focus has understandably been on Barcelona’s attack, their defense has improved to the point where it is no longer the weakness it had been for several seasons. Key to that shift has been Gerard Pique returning to the form that made him one of the world’s best center-backs in his first few seasons after returning to the Camp Nou from Manchester United. Alongside him, Javier Mascherano has been a real leader, while last summer’s arrival Jeremy Mathieu offers the kind of depth in the position that Barcelona have lacked for so long. That helped Barcelona to post what was by some distance the best defensive record in La Liga, conceding just 21 goals in 38 matches. They have been solid in the Champions League, too, letting in 10 goals in 12 matches, three of them in an ultimately meaningless defeat to Bayern in the second leg of their semifinal. Juventus will doubtless spend much of the final on the back foot, but they will also pose a genuine threat on the break through their impressive forward duo of Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata. It could only take one attack for Juventus to get a decisive goal, but Barcelona now look equipped to snuff out that danger.
Peaking At The Perfect Time
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique faced plenty of criticism in the first half of his debut season in charge as the team struggled to find fluidity, amid his decision to frequently rotate his lineup. Indeed, the lowest point of Enrique’s reign came when he decided to start with Messi on the bench in Barcelona’s first match back from the winter break, which led to the club’s greatest ever player missing training the following day after a reported breakdown in the relationship between player and coach. But his tough decisions early in the season have reaped rich benefits in leaving the team fresh for what is the most crucial period of the campaign. The contrast is particularly sharp with Barcelona’s great rivals Real Madrid, who paid the price for fielding a consistent lineup throughout the season. Against Bayern and in the final of the Copa de Rey against Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona were incredibly sharp, none more so than Messi. While the Argentinean has featured in every La Liga and Champions League match, his much-discussed change in diet has restored the physical edge he was lacking last season.