You remember all of those games that we've called 'the biggest game of the season' during this magical 2014-15 run to the Champions League final? Go ahead and throw them out the window. Nothing will match what we are about to witness in Berlin Saturday night. Nothing. This is the biggest game there is no matter what we compare it to. Nothing else can come close outside of what Juventus played in to get to this point.
Juventus, the champions of Italy. Barcelona, the champions of Spain. Both teams are looking to win the same trophy and cap off a treble-winning season in the best possible way.
Many expected Barcelona to be here. They've got three of the best strikers this game we love has to offer. And it's not like those three guys suddenly caught fire. They've pretty much been like this all season. Juventus, though? Not many expected them to even make it to the semifinals, let alone slay Barcelona's No. 1 rival and defending European champions in the process. A season full of proving people wrong — from the new manager to the ability to get it done in Europe and all the way back again — has been wonderful to witness. (Unless you root for Inter or something.)
Saturday night is the final stop in a 2014-15 season where Juventus has firmly put its foot down and squashed talk that they're still on the outside looking in when it comes to Europe's elite. We've seen a massive figure resign on the second day of preseason training only to be replaced by somebody who was fired six months before by Milan. And, as the season has gone on, the managerial change proved to be something that was the perfect ingredient to make this team be great outside of just Serie A.
But this test, in the biggest game Juventus has played in years, is unlike any they have seen this season. Makes sense at this stage of the game, doesn't it?
.@gianluigibuffon: "Barca are favourites, that's to be expected with the players they possess. But we're not here to make up the numbers."
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) June 5, 2015
Like San Gigi said, Barcelona are the overwhelming favorites entering the grand finale. And you know what? That's perfectly okay. Juventus has thrived as the underdog this season — especially so in Europe. They've overcome the imposing Westfalenstadion and subsequently silienced it, then took down the reigning European champions in their own house and got to do some dancing on the Bernabéu turf. Good times, man, good times.
Maybe it's fate that Juventus are playing the same they beat on their way to the 2003 Champions League final. Or maybe it's simply a coincidence and we can throw it right out the window.
As much as it's an accomplishment to even get to this point, winning it would be so, so, so much sweeter. Go right ahead and win it for Gigi, win it for Pavel, win it for ADP, win it for all the Juve players of the past who never got here. Just win it. This is a chance that doesn't come around very often. So why not make the most of it now that we're finally here?
Let me check...
Oh yeah, tomorrow is the Champions League final and Juventus is playing in it.
Giorgio Chiellini just had to go and hurt his calf a few days before the Champions League final, huh? Fitting that in the last game of the season that this section of the preview is filled with injury news since it's been like that from Giornata No. 1 back in late-August onward.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. Juventus' defense vs. Messi-Surarez-Neymar.
Because, let's face it, this is going to ultimately determine whether Juventus heads home with more silverware strapped into a seat on their team plane like after the Coppa Italia final or get second-place medals. It's not so much trying to stop Messi and his friends completely, but more having to avoid complete disaster compared to anything else. As dangerous as Neymar and Suarez can be, Messi is just on a whole different planet. That means the contributions of the left side of Juventus' defense, Patrice Evra and Leonardo Bonucci, will be vital without Chiellini in the lineup. We could sit here and break down the individual matchups, but defending such a talented and dangerous trident isn't going to come down to one single person. Trying to slow them down will be something all four at the back — and probably some saves from Gigi Buffon — as well as the midfield. This is just what needs to happen when you're going against three of the best around.
2. The health and effectiveness of Andrea Barzagli.
Considering how up and down Chiellini's form has been this season, some folks are thinking that Barzagli coming into the starting lineup for the Champions League final isn't such a disaster like others might perceive it as. I've gone back and forth on it about 20 times while writing this part of the preview, and I think it will be that as the countdown clock winds down to kickoff Saturday night. But I keep coming back to this one central focus: Having a healthy and match-fit Barzagli in the lineup is never a bad thing. Ever. That's why many folks aren't throwing themselves down a flight of stairs because Chiellini is out injured. Barzagli has been Juventus' best defender not named Leonardo Bonucci this season, so it's not like a total scrub is stepping in for Chiellini. And even though he is just getting over his own injury problems, he has been training for most of the week and every indication is that The Great Wall of Barza is ready to roll.
That Tuttosport headline of "STATE CALMI C'E' BARZAGLI" definitely seems pretty handy right now.
3. How does Allegri play this one?
As we've come to see about Juventus in Europe, a classic counterattack has proven to be their best friend. The same can be said about pressing high and putting the opposition under pressure. But will that really work against a team like Barcelona that can destroy any opponent in what seems like the blink of an eye? I'm not so sure, unless you feel like trying to stop fire with fire. (Or something like that.) Does Allegri go conservative or does he crank up the pressure in an attempt to catch Barcelona off guard? This in lies the external struggle of trying to read a manager's mind before the match actually begins. I guess the only real thing we know is that a late-game switch to a 3-5-2 formation is out of play with Barzagli stepping in for Chiellini. At least we can figure that out, which is better than just sitting here completely clueless.
4. Juventus' midfield vs. Barcelona's midfield.
Rewind to whenever you read the Q&A session with our friends at Barca Blaugranes. What's the one weakness they identified within the Barcelona ranks? Yeah, the midfield. The same one that has Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets. But when you can counter with Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Pirlo, you're setting yourself up for a pretty good fight. A lot like the defenders above, a collective effort is crucial here. And it could hinge on Vidal, who will be going directly up against Busquets for most of the night. Even though Vidal will be in his unnatural spot as a trequartista instead of playing alongside Pirlo, he will incredibly important to the cause. And if Pogba plays more like the pre-injury player compared to the post-injury one who is still finding his match fitness, then Juventus winning the always-important battle in the center of the park. It worked against Real Madrid, right?
My starting XI (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Bonucci, Evra; Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba; Vidal; Morata, Tévez