Image Source: Sky Sports 1
Tonight is the night we have been waiting for. The Champions League Final is the most highly anticipated club match each and every season. This year it will be contested by FC Barcelona and Juventus, the champions of Spain and Italy.
Barça won their championship by just two points over rivals Real Madrid after a very successful domestic season under new manager Luis Enrique. Juve on the other hand secured the Serie A with a month to go, 17 points ahead of second placed Roma.
View of the Olympiastadion Berlin. Source: Sky Sports 1
Barcelona qualified following a 5-3 aggregate win over German giants Bayern Munich. Lionel Messi’s magic shone through in the first leg, two goals from the little Argentinian almost killing off Bayern’s hopes. Juve had a slightly tougher task, facing Barça’s rivals Real Madrid.
Juve had a brilliant first leg, beating Madrid 2-1 and possibly even a better performance in the second leg, although the Italians never won, a 1-1 draw was enough to qualify for the final stage of the competition.
Barcelona went with the line-up everyone expected. Their club’s traditional 4-3-3 was deployed by manager Luis Enrique. Marc Andre ter-Stegen was in net. In front of him was a back four of Alves, Pique, Mascherano and Alba. The back four was protected by Sergio Busquets. Just in front of him was Ivan Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta. Up front for the Catalan’s was the lethal combination of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Massimilano Allegri’s men were half expected to line-up in a 5-3-2 formation but the injury to Chiellini forced Allegri to stick with the usual midfield diamond formation. In goals was Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon. Lichtensteiner, Barzaghli, Bonucci and Evra made up the back four. Andrea Pirlo would look to dictate the tempo in his usual ‘regista’ role, in front of him were a trio of Marchisio, Vidal and Pogba, Vidal at the tip of the diamond. Juventus’ forwards were Morata and Tevez.
Juventus Defensive Set-Up
When defending, Arturo Vidal moved alongside Pirlo to defend centrally, Marchisio and Pogba defended the half spaces and supported their full-backs out wide. This formed a very horizontally compact, flat 4-4-2 formation. Morata and Tevez’s jobs were to limit Sergio Busquets influence in circulation, they stayed either side of him to prevent him receiving passes.
However, this approach wasn’t successful for Juve, instead of playing through Busquets, Barça simply passed through the centre-backs who were free due to Morata and Tevez defending Busquets rather than them. Due to both of Juve’s strikers being very centrally, this meant there was clear passing lanes from Barca’s centre-backs to Rakitic and Iniesta.
Barça Vertical Movements Create Space in Between Lines
Messi, Suarez and Neymar, particularly the latter pair, made vertical movements in a bid to stretch Juve’s defensive line, this affected Juventus’ compactness between defence and midfield and created huge space between the lines, Lionel Messi exploited this as did Andrés Iniesta at times.
At this point, we would often see a common pattern of play from Barça. As Messi dribbled into the right half space Neymar would make a perfectly timed diagonal forward run which Lichtsteiner had to follow, this would then open up huge space for Jordi Alba on the wing, Messi would then attempt to play a high diagonal pass out to Alba.
Above we can see a similar pattern, this was in the build-up to Rakitic’s goal.
Overload in Midfield and Juve’s Pressing Problems
In Juventus’ second line, they were being clearly overrun in both numbers and skill. With Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez overloading the right half space and Dani Alves rushing into the space left by Messi on the wing, Barça had a clear overload on the right against Evra and Pogba. Another problem for Juve in their second line was the decisions they had to make. If a Juve midfielder was to leave the second line, this would leave a gap for Rakitic or Iniesta in a half space or even Suarez centrally. The last problem for Juve was the wider midfielders of Marchisio and Pogba, if either was to press centrally or in the half space, this would leave their full-back in a very dangerous 2v1 situation against the winger and on-rushing full-back.
A huge miss for Juve was hard man Giorgio Chiellini. Their ability to play a 5-3-2 was quickly killed off when he was deemed unable to play. A 5-3-2 would have Juve to double up on Messi and Neymar, two of Barca’s key players.
However, the 4-4-2 left Juve vulnerable on the flanks and in been lines when compactness was lost.