Juventus midfield aiming to barricade Barcelona’s road to perfection
Messi, Xavi and Iniesta aiming for fourth European Cup in 10 years
The Olympic Stadium in Berlin, where Barcelona will seek their fifth European Cup and Juventus their third. Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP
Is there a word for an anti-climax that happens before the actual event? Whatever that word is, it might in future make a snappier title for the somewhat unwieldy ‘UEFA Champions League Final Match Day Minus One Press Conference’.
It is a curious fact that the biggest game of the club season attracts some of the most banal questions.
Most press conferences are conducted by smaller groups of journalists who know the protagonists reasonably well. The press conference before the Champions League final is conducted by a huge group of international journalists whose random questions are filtered through translators in a process that leaches them of all content.
Is it a dream to play in a final? Will you be happy if you score? How will you feel if you win? A question for the Belgian fans — how likely is it that Thomas Vermaelen will play?
Leonardo Bonucci, the man who will take on the responsibility of leading Juventus’ defence in the injury-enforced absence of Giorgio Chiellini, talked about his son’s unimpressed reaction to the news that he would shortly be appearing in a historic final.
“My son Lorenzo, when I left home this morning, said ‘Dad where are you going?’ I said ‘I’m going to Berlin.‘ ‘Why?’ ‘Because Dad has to go to work.‘ ‘Oh. I wanted to go to the beach.‘ ‘OK then, when I come back, we’ll go to the beach with Mummy.‘ So I’ll do my best to keep him happy.”
Buffon also had a cute story about his kids. One of his sons is apparently a huge fan of Lionel Messi, the other of Neymar, so the Buffon household is torn.
We might as well talk about the Juventus children because there was precious little of import said about the match. Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri was giving little away. Two years ago, he coached AC Milan to a 2-0 home win over Barcelona in a Champions League second-round match (they lost the return leg 4-0). Would he use the same tactics again?
“Absolutely not. Barça two years ago played in a completely different way. Xavi is missing, Rakitic is there, and he’s very different from Xavi. The midfield is completely different, so it’s a different Barcelona.”
Juventus have targeted the midfield as the area where they can force an upset. With Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio, they feel as though they have the right combination of skill, tactical intelligence and athleticism to knock the Barcelona trio of Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic out of their rhythm.
Particularly they will hope that Pogba and Vidal can impose themselves physically on their illustrious opponents.
As Bonucci explained: “Barcelona are not just a strong attack. They only conceded about 20 goals in the league, which shows they’re very good at defending. I think the game will be won or lost in midfield, because that’s where you will see different qualities and particularly physical skills.”
The qualities that most people are excited about ahead of the game are those of Barcelona’s front three, who hope to add to a total of 120 goals in 59 games.
Neymar said: “I think the main factor is our friendship, on the field and also outside. We are good friends and I think that helps a lot.”
Barcelona are poised to win their fourth Champions League title in 10 seasons, which would put them alongside the greatest European dynasties. Although Iniesta, Xavi and Messi have been constants throughout that era, they have reached the four finals with four quite different teams, such that people argue over which one was the best. The total-possession team of 2011, the Ronaldinho-Eto’o team of 2006, the Messi-Suárez-Neymar team of today?
It sounds as though it’s a conversation Gerard Pique has little time for.
“I don’t know if we play better or worse. I hate comparisons. I hated when we were not winning last season, that they were comparing us to the team with Pep. It’s a different team.
“There will be people that like the way we play, there will be people that think we played better a few years ago. But it’s working. We are in the final of the Champions League.
“We are 90 minutes away from perfection.”