Within the next few hours, Juventus will begin their journey to Berlin. A bus ride to the airport, a plane to Germany, and then another ride over to the Olympiastadion where the players will walk around the turf in their fancy suits as they peruse the field they'll be playing on a handful of hours later.
Yes, Juventus vs. Barcelona is only a day away. How are your respective stomachs doing? I'm sure there are a few butterflies fluttering about right now.
And since I was in the question-asking mood, I figured I'd link up with the good folks at SB Nation's resident Barcelona blog, Barca Blaugranes. And it's not just some kind of thing that had to do with being funny on Twitter for a couple of minutes. (Although, we have had our share of zingers go back and forth since Juve beat Real Madrid a couple weeks back.) No, we had one of Barca Blaugranes' writers, Boštjan Černenšek, answer actual questions about actual things that is going on with the Spanish champions this season.
Don't worry, there were no questions asked about Lionel Messi getting all tatted up in the middle of the season. Nope, we kept it serious and just on the football. (Because football!)
So, without further adieu, here's my chat with Barca Blaugranes.
BWRAO: It's easy to praise Suarez-Messi-Neymar — and it's not like they don't deserve it with all the goals they have scored this season. But what has also happened within the team to allow Barcelona to make the Champions League final?
BB: Suarez, Messi and Neymar are definitely one of the main reasons, if not the reason behind Barcelona's success this season. The trio scored 120 goals this season even though Suarez didn't set foot on the pitch until 26 October, and having scoring potential like that will almost certainly lead to titles when the season is over.
But no matter how many goals you score, if you continue to give up goals at a rate Barcelona did last season, especially from set-pieces, every title challenge is going to difficult. This season, however, the defense really stepped up their game. The biggest improvement came from Gerard Pique, who returned to top form for the first time since he met Shakira. The always reliable Javier Mascherano only keeps getting better, especially now that his center-back partner isn't as mistake prone as his was before, the late-season resurgence of Dani Alves has helped Barcelona score more goals, though he still gets beaten at times in defense, while the always reliable Jordi Alba continues to patrol the left side. Barcelona also added some much needed depth to their back line in the form of Jeremy Mathieu while Marc Bartra continues to improve.
Luis Enrique and his assistant Juan Carlos Unzue also made some much needed tactical changes that have helped Barcelona get to where they are right now, but more on that in the answer below.
BWRAO: The last time Juventus saw Luis Enrique manage against them, he was about to leave Italy after just one season with Roma. How do you think he has done this season? Has he changed much of anything?
BB: To say that it was smooth sailing since Luis Enrique took over would be one of the biggest lies ever spoken. After the first game of the year 2015, nobody really knew if Lucho was going to last the entire season, but now he has already completed the domestic double and has a chance for a historic treble.
Lucho was often criticized for over-rotating, especially in away games against mid-table teams that burned Barcelona more than once, but reached boiling point against Real Sociedad in which Neymar and Messi were left out of the starting lineup. But that was also the game that changed everything as it seemingly brought everybody on the same page, even if it almost blew up the team at that time. And because of the rotations the players have never been is such good physical shape this late in the season.
Of course, the addition of Suarez to an already deadly attack that included Messi and Neymar made Enrique's job easier, but he was able to implement a counter attacking game into Barcelona, an area in which the team struggled since the Pep Guardiola era started. With the help of Unzue he not only eradicated one of Barcelona's biggest weaknesses, the air game, but made it look like one of the team's strengths, on both ends of the pitch. The added height of Mathieu, Rakitić and Suarez obviously helped, but now everybody knows their job on set-piece plays. And, last but not least, Lucho brought in a brilliant young physiotherapist by the name of Rafael Pol, who improved training sessions and provided Enrique with extensive data to help make Barcelona a better team.
Drawing a line under Lucho's first season in charge of the first team, he has done a brilliant job, even if there were numerous bumps along the way, and I will stand by that opinion regardless of the result on Saturday.
BWRAO: While there's a good number of the same players around from the last time Barcelona won the Champions League four years ago, how does this team compare to that one?
BB: Even though Barcelona's last Champions League title is only four years ago, much has changed since then. Left have some of the club's biggest legends — Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Victor Valdes — and, perhaps more importantly, there is a different man leading the team from the bench. And herein lies the biggest difference between the two teams. The Barcelona team that played in the 2011 Final really only had one game plan — tiki-taka. If that didn't work, Pep had a big headache on his hands, though most of the time did work. Now Barcelona can beat you in numerous ways, even though the tiki-taka is still an option when the opponent sits back, brilliantly exhibited by the third goal Barcelona scored in the Copa del Rey Final on Saturday. But added to the Catalans' arsenal are a lighting quick counterattack and, something that was unimaginable last season, a very strong air game.
BWRAO: If there is one weakness within this Barcelona side, what would it be? Do you think Juventus could be able to exploit that weakness with the players they have?
BB: While it may sound blasphemous, the biggest weakness in the Barcelona side just might be the midfield. Some of that might be due to the change in the playing style as the wings now tend to be more utilized, but the midfielders have been far from dominant. While still one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, Sergio Busquets has been uncharacteristically turnover prone, Andres Iniesta has struggled with form for the majority of the season and even though Xavi continues to play at a high level he had his playing time regulated because of injury concerns due to his age. Just about the only midfielder who maintained a high level throughout was Rakitić.
Considering the midfield is one of Juventus's strengths, it promises to be a very hard battle in the middle of the pitch that Juventus just might win superiority over, but if that will be enough for Juve to win the Champions League final is a different story, because as I said above, Barcelona isn't as reliant on the midfield anymore. Arturo Vidal has shown before, in 2014 World Cup, that he can masterfully shut down Busquets and with the playmaking abilities of Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio Juve could force their way through the middle.
BWRAO: Barcelona have a rather interesting goalkeeper rotation with Claudio Bravo playing domestically and Marc-Andre ter Stegen starting in Europe and the Copa del Rey. What's the reasoning behind this? And since Juve will almost certainly be seeing the young German on Saturday night, how has he progressed this season?
BB: Going into the season, nobody really knew what to expect from the goalkeepers as for the first time since the 2003-04 season Victor Valdes wasn't the de facto No.1 goalkeeper. But both Bravo and ter Stegen have proved worthy of a Barcelona shirt. Barcelona has long had a policy of using one goalkeeper for the league and the other for the Copa del Rey, but the La Liga goalkeeper was always the starter in the Champions League.
With ter Stegen starting the season injured, Bravo started the league season in goal and never even remotely looked like he would relinquish that role. But coaches obviously saw enough talent, potential and composure in ter Stegen in training that he was not only entrusted with the Copa del Rey but also with the starting job in the Champions League. As expected from a young goalkeeper in his first year with a new club in a new country there have been growing pains, a good example of which would be the 3-2 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage when the German had a forgettable game.
But as the season went on, ter Stegen matured and became much more reliable in goal, routinely making difficult saves look easy, just take a look at the highlights from the first half of the second leg against Bayern Munich and you will see what I mean. Ter Stegen might have had a rocky start to his Barcelona career, but he has earned faith of fans (and coaches) to not even consider making a change in goal at this point of the competition, even if the "other" goalkeeper only gave up 0.51 goals per game in La Liga.