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Who will win the title as the best in European Champions League, La Vecchia Signora “Juventus” or Blaugrana de Catalunya “Barcelona”

Juventus plan to keep it real against Barcelona in Champions League final
Massimiliano Allegri insists Barça have ‘faults and weaknesses like all teams’ as his first season in Turin concludes with the Champions League final in Berlin
Final Match
Even before we get to that point when the ribbons are attached to the trophy and the Brandenburg Gate is lit up in the relevant colours, the occasion should not pass without recognising what potentially is going to be lost. Xavi Hernández is on his way from Barcelona to Qatar and Andrea Pirlo may also be heading for the Middle East now this is confirmed as his valedictory performance at Juventus. Gianluigi Buffon still appears to be going strong, at the age of 37, but the Champions League is losing two members of football royalty.

Not that the generation below is doing too badly. When the names of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez were mentioned to the Juventus coach, Massimiliano Allegri, he just smiled knowingly. “How do you stop them?” he asked. All three are playing at the point of maximum expression and Messi can become the first player to score in three Champions League finals. It is easy to understand why graffiti has appeared on Jesse Owens Allee, the boulevard peeling away from the Olympiastadion, bearing the telephone numbers of some of the people scouring the city for a ticket.

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The honest answer to the question Allegri posed is that if Messi is at his devastating best it is difficult to see how Juventus can prevent Barcelona from collecting this trophy for the fifth time and reaffirming their status as the outstanding team of the 21st century. That would still be halfway to Real Madrid’s total, and two short of Milan, but it would at least put them level with Liverpool and Bayern Munich. It is Barça’s fourth final in 10 years and they have had the best passing statistics in this competition in every season since 2007-08. Gerard Piqué described the current team as “one of the best sides in the history of the club” and it was revealing to see how keen he was to stress the way Luis Enrique had made it one of his priorities to improve them defensively. Amid all the dazzling qualities of their attackers, it tends to be overlooked this team conceded only 21 goals in 38 games in La Liga.

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This season Barça’s average possession in the Champions League is actually their lowest since Uefa started collecting this data in 2003. Yet it is still 60.95% in their favour and all the drop shows is the slight shift in pattern since the new coach came in and Xavi started being eased out. Barcelona still play keep-ball but they are now encouraged to move it forward more quickly and they generally look better for it.

“It’s a different team,” Piqué said. “I hate comparisons and I didn’t like it when we were not winning last season and everyone kept comparing us to Pep Guardiola’s teams. Some people will think we are playing better and some people will prefer the old team. All we can say for sure is that it’s working. We have won the league, we have won the cup and now we are in the final of the Champions League. Now we are 90 minutes away from perfection.”

Juventus will certainly need to show all the great Italian traits of defensive parsimony and a lot depends on Andrea Barzagli now Giorgio Chiellini has been forced out with a calf problem. On that front, the biggest concern should be that Barzagli has been struggling with an injury of his own recently. The 34-year-old has 51 caps for Italy and was in the squad when the Azzurri won the World Cup at this stadium in 2006, with Buffon and Pirlo in the starting lineup. He is nicknamed The Wall and there is no real sense that Chiellini’s absence has to be a grievous setback. Leonardo Bonucci, Juve’s other centre-half, talked at length about Barzagli’s qualities. “After a difficult season, he is back to being one of the best defenders in the world,” Bonucci said.

Juventus can be encouraged by the way they eliminated Real Madrid in the semi-finals with a performance of great balance and distinction – soaking up considerable pressure and being clinical when they had their own chances – and they have been sensible in their approach to Suárez and the game’s other side issues. Chiellini, pre-injury, made it clear there was no lingering grudge about the bite that ended Suárez’s World Cup and Patrice Evra strategically did not appear when Juventus held their media day in Turin.

Suárez, Juventus had concluded, is one of those players it is best not to wind up in the media, as Roy Hodgson inadvertently found out during the World Cup on the back of some careless remarks about the Uruguayan not having yet shown he was a world-class performer. “Just in case I wasn’t motivated enough,” Suárez later wrote in his autobiography. That, incidentally, is why he dedicated Uruguay’s victory over England and his two goals to “those who doubted me”.

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The buildup to this final has been controversy free and neither team has tried to unsettle the other. Allegri did say that Barcelona “had faults and weaknesses like all teams” but Buffon also made the point that Juventus were maybe ahead of themselves and had not really expected to reach this final in their first season with a new manager. “We thought it would take two or three years,” Buffon said. “It has been an unexpected surprise but a nice surprise.”

Buffon was asked whether Barcelona were favourites. “They have Messi, Neymar and Suárez, plus Iniesta in midfield – of course they are favourites.”

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