When Barcelona and Juventus meet in Berlin on Saturday, it won’t just be the Champions League title at stake, but the eighth treble in European history. With domestic league and cups already secured in what have been memorable seasons for both clubs, the ultimate achievement now awaits at the Olympiastadion.
It will be just the second time ever that the final of Europe’s premier competition will feature two teams going for a clean sweep of major honors. The other occasion was in 2010 when Inter Milan took the glory, leaving Bayern Munich to savor their domestic achievements. A year earlier it was Barcelona that sealed their first ever treble when beating Manchester United in Rome, meaning on Saturday they will be aiming to become the first club to complete the feat twice.
Were they to do so there would be plenty comparing the merits of the current team to the one that swept all before them under Pep Guardiola. There have been plenty of changes to the side since then, with the famed tiki-taka style evolving on a team now centered on the individual talent of their famed front three. Between them, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have scored an incredible 120 goals this season in all competitions. The latest additions to that club-record tally came on Saturday when Messi scored twice and Neymar added the other as Barcelona eased past Athletic Bilbao 3-1 in the final of the Copa del Rey. Afterward, Messi explained why the trio has been such a success since Suarez’s arrival from Liverpool last summer.
“We keep a nice relationship and when there is understanding away from the pitch it's easier to get on during games,” he told TVE, reports Spanish publication Sport.
Still, while the understanding between the three together with their unselfishness has been remarkable, it is, as in 2009, Messi that stands apart. Having had what by his unmatched high standards were a couple of lean years, the four-time world player of the year has been as good and possibly better than ever in recent months.
After starting on the bench for Barcelona’s first game back from the winter break in January, Messi’s relationship with his coach appeared that it might be beyond repair as reports swirled following his absence from a public training session the following day. But since then he and Barcelona have been exceptional, with the team failing to win just four times in 34 games and winning La Liga with a game to spare. In the Copa del Rey final, Messi again came to the fore when scoring a sensational individual effort to open the scoring. Yet despite his and his team’s form, the Argentinean is not taking anything for granted heading into the Champions League final.
“We know it's not going to be easy,” he said. “Everyone here has the hope and the will to win the game. It's a tough opponent and at the end, in just one game, anything could happen.”
And for Juventus the season has also seen the overcoming of significant question marks earlier in the campaign. After being dismissed by a struggling Milan just six months earlier, Massimiliano Allegri was far from a popular choice among Juventus fans to take over following the sudden departure of the immensely popular Antonio Conte. Merely maintaining the domestic dominance that had seen the club record three-straight Serie A titles was feared by many to be under threat.
Instead Allegri has done that, and plenty more. In the end Juventus won Serie A by a massive 17 points, losing just three matches -- two of those after the title had already been effectively secured. And for just the third time in the club’s history they made it a domestic double, landing their first Coppa Italia title in 20 years when beating Lazio in the final last month.
The team’s most remarkable success, though, has come in Europe. While Conte failed to build on Juventus’ success in Italy on the continental stage, Allegri has proved himself a shrewd operator. Having ousted 2013 runners-up Borussia Dortmund, Juventus squeezed past Monaco in the last eight, before displaying a combination of resilience and attacking efficiency to upset holders Real Madrid in the semifinals.
While the likes of Carlos Tevez and Paul Pogba will look to make an impact further forward, much will rest on the ability of a veteran defense to stop Barcelona’s glittering attack. At the heart of those efforts will be legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who will be returning to the venue of his greatest triumph -- when lifting the World Cup with Italy in 2006. But the 37-year-old is under no illusions about the scale of Juventus’ challenge.
“Against Real we might have had a 35 percent chance of making it past them, so I guess the chances of now winning the trophy against this Barcelona side are even slimmer,” he said in an interview with Uefa.com.
“We are aware of this and we can't deny it -- because it's just obvious. So we certainly have an abundance of respect for the Barcelona squad, for what they have achieved and for the players they have. But like I said about Real, we have a few weapons to compete and ways to try to make things difficult for them. So we will play based on that.”