Massimiliano Allegri has said that his Juventus side will need to score in Saturday’s Champions League final in Berlin when going up against a Barcelona team featuring the world’s most devastating attack. Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar have scored 120 goals between them in all competitions this season to fire the Catalan giants to the verge of completing a treble, having already secured La Liga and Copa del Rey titles.
But in the world’s biggest club match they will come up against a team also chasing a treble of honors. Juventus wrapped up their fourth successive Serie A title last month and also added the Coppa Italia in what has been a hugely successful first season in charge of the Turin club for former Milan coach Allegri. And unlike under his predecessor Antonio Conte, Juventus have transferred to that success to Europe, having already caused a major upset in the Champions League by defeating holders Real Madrid in the semifinals. Ever since recording that win, the task of stopping Barcelona’s famed trio has loomed large. But Allegri insists that their chances of winning a third ever European Cup for the club rest on exploiting what he sees as Barcelona’s “weaknesses.”
“Messi, Neymar, Suárez, it's the usual question since the semi-final -- how do you stop them, how do you stop them?” he said, according to UEFA’s official website. “We need to be very skilled but we need to recognize we're not going to draw; we need to score. How do you stop Barcelona? We need to think how to score. We need to be strong technically because they're a technical team and attack is their best weapon so we need to be very, very aware of that.
“We need to stay focused for 90 minutes, right until the end. We need to be mentally strong and turn things around because we're second favorites to Barcelona. It's a one-off match, no chance to play again, so we need to be fit. We are physically fine and the same goes for our mental strength. We need to be good against a great team but, like all teams, they do have faults and weaknesses.”
Juventus’ hopes of keeping Barcelona’s attack quiet have been dealt a notable blow in preparations for the game. Experienced defender Giorgio Chiellini tore a calf muscle in training on Wednesday and has been ruled out of the final. That will be particularly heart-breaking for a player who has been with Juventus since their relegation to Serie B following the Calciopoli scandal in 2006.
Saturday will see Juventus play in their first Champions League final since then, indeed their first since losing to AC Milan on penalties 12 years ago. In contrast, they will be taking on a Barcelona team looking for their fourth triumph in the competition in the last nine seasons. But it is the first time they have been back to the final since tasting victory in 2011 and the departure of legendary coach Pep Guardiola the following year.
The season has been a major success story for Guardiola’s friend and former teammate at the Camp Nou, Luis Enrique. Midway through the campaign it appeared Enrique would be lucky to see out the season after complaints about a lack of identity in the team and reports of a bust-up with the club’s greatest ever player, Messi. But, with Messi returning to, and perhaps surpassing, his previous best, Enrique has led Barcelona to an incredible run in the second half of the season. Since a defeat to Real Sociedad at the start of January, which was followed by rampant talk of a crisis, Barcelona have failed to win just four of their 34 matches, and two of those were ultimately meaningless, including the second leg of their semifinal win over Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.
“[Getting better] is a normal process throughout a season, especially bearing in mind this is my first season in charge,” Enrique said at his pre-match press conference. “The team is now where it wants to be -- with two trophies and the possibility of a third. We're entering this game with great excitement and hopes of playing a great match so we can be better than our opponents.”
The focus of that success has been squarely placed on Barcelona’s front three. After signing from Liverpool last summer and then returning from a four-month suspension incurred for biting Chiellini at last year’s World Cup, Suarez has, following an initial settling in period, helped form an attack brilliant in both the individual and collective ability of its three stars. But Enrique has been keen to play tribute to the whole of his team for reaching this point.
“We've scored lots of goals in the Champions League but we know finals are very different; there's a lot of tension so we'll have to block that out,” he said. “The strikers have got all the headlines and that's natural. To be here today, having already won those two trophies in Spain, the players know you need a squad – we wouldn't have got here without our defenders too.”
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox