Champions League final: Five storylines to follow leading up to the big match

With Barcelona and Juventus having punched their tickets to the Champions League final in Berlin, we turn our attention to some of the storylines leading up to the match. After all, these are two teams that have an opportunity to win their respective league titles, with the CL trophy being the final piece of silverware in their quest for glory. Let’s take a closer look at these teams and some storylines to watch in the finals.

Italy vs Spain

With over a dozen players combined on their respective national teams, it is difficult to overlook the national identity of these two teams. After all, Spain and Italy have been the top two nations in the world as it relates to football over the past two decades. Not only will there be club pride on display, but national pride as well. Over the last 26 European Cups, eight have been won by Spanish clubs while seven have gone to Italian squads. Juventus will be out to level that figure with a victory at the Olympiastadion next month.

Front Three vs Back Four

The Barca offense is touted and even revered by some, and the numbers are stunning. Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have put the ball in the back of the net 55, 41 and 25 times respectively this season. While the offensive prowess of Barcelona cannot be understated, Juve’s back line has been almost impenetrable. With their defense consisting of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Patrice Evra and Stephan Lichtsteiner, they have given up just 20 goals through 35 league matches this season. Along with wily veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, Juve’s defense stymied a strong Real Madrid attack in the CL semifinals and will look to do the same against Barcelona.

Suarez vs Evra/Chiellini

While Luis Suarez has a history of on-field behavioral issues, some of his most notable antics were played out against two of the current Juventus defenders. While both players were on EPL teams, Suarez (Liverpool) got into a war of words with Evra, with Suarez hurling racial comments at the Manchester United defender. Suarez was subsequently suspended for eight games for that incident.

When the two sides met again, Suarez refused to shake the hand of Evra, which in English football is frowned upon. And it is hard to forget the last World Cup, where Suarez sunk his teeth into Italian defender Chiellini. Suarez subsequently received a four month suspension, since this type of behavior had happened previously. While he subsequently apologized to Chiellini for his actions (after initially downplaying them), expect the memories of his past to be as fresh as the bite marks from the World Cup. And going past BiteGate 2.0, Italy was eliminated in the last World Cup in this match with seven players on the Italian squad that are also a part of this Juventus team.

Xavi vs Pirlo

These two warriors represent the best of their generation, albeit having slowed down a bit at the age of 35. But both players have the ability to dictate the tempo of the game, which can be crucial in a match such as this. While Pirlo has managed to hold down a regular starting spot with Xavi assuming a more supporting role, this should be seen as more of a team style of play and the depth of the squads at the midfield position. Pirlo fits well into the defensive posture that Juve tends to play, while Barca depends upon pace to advance the ball into the final third of the field. It is rumored that this game might be the last match for Xavi in a Blaugrana uniform, and one would expect to see both men on the pitch at some point in the game.

Max Allegri vs Luis Enrique

Both managers are in their first year with their respective clubs, having enjoyed success as players in the same division that they manage (Allegri as a midfielder in the Serie A and Enrique as a midfielder in La Liga). They are in the running for the trophy should the Champions League final, a feat that few veteran managers achieve. While it can be said that both inherited talented teams from their predecessors, it should also be noted that success is expected from both clubs, and failure is not tolerated in Barcelona or Turin.  With a 117-year team history for Il Bianconeri and a 115-year history for the Blaugrana, both first-year managers will be looking to earn a place in history in Berlin.