In a final that pitted two national league champions together, it was still not a surprise that Barcelona went into this game as the favourites to lift the trophy for a fifth time. Juventus, like Barca, were chasing the treble, having already won the Scudetto and Coppa Italia in May, and they had their moments in the match to get ahead. Ultimately though, Barca’s class was too much even for defensive specialists which Italian sides are usually renowned for.
Unlikely Game Changer
In a game filled with attacking stars like Luis Suarez, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Andres Iniesta amongst others, it was a Swiss right-back from the losing side that had the greatest influence in his side’s demise, unlikely rival and ultimately for the eventual European champions.
Many may point to Juventus’ veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and his heroic reflexes for the majority of the game that helped keep his side in it, or midfield playmaker Iniesta assist and all-round performance – even if it was only up till the 78th minute – that were the single biggest determinants of this epic final. But in truth, the game’s tide swinger, or the player involved in almost all the vital game-changing moments was certainly Juve’s Stephan Lichtsteiner.
the swiss greatly contributed throughout the final
Lichtsteiner was never going to be the man-of-the-match, by miles, but his typical forward forays and recent return from injury were two factors that helped swing the tide there-and-back from Juve. As Messi swung the ball towards the left side in the lead up to the early opener, Lichtsteiner was trying to stop Jordi Alba from taking the ball down towards the byline. In doing so, the Swiss international was drawn away from Neymar, leaving his colleague to attempt to contain the Brazilian. It was at this moment that some might feel Lichsteiner could have tucked in the penalty box, which could have halted Iniesta’s late run into the box before the Spaniard set up Ivan Rakitic for the opener.
In the second half, it was Lichtsteiner’s brave run forward on the right that led to Juve’s equaliser, as he gave Claudio Marchisio an option which the Italian duly found with a neat back heel. Lichtsteiner managed to find Tevez in the box, allowing the Argentine to spin and shoot at goal, with his rebound allowing Alvaro Morata to equalise. However, as Messi broke free to spark Barca’s counter, Lichtsteiner was too preoccupied with a possible pass from Messi to Neymar, and his hesitancy allowed Messi just enough space to fire a shot towards Buffon’s far post. Buffon was arguably more at fault as his save was parried back to a danger zone that included an oncoming Suarez to score, but Lichtsteiner could have possibly stepped up closer to Messi to prevent his initial effort on goal.
And as Juve poured men forward deep into injury-time, Lichtsteiner was committed too high up to even have a chance to get back to stop Neymar from presenting a harsh scoreline for the Italians. Even as Juve’s right-back had produced an up-and-down performance, considering his recent return from injury, it was an achievement in itself that he managed to finish the game, and was surely running on empty by the end.
Juve’s Early Killer Blow
If one was to have a chance of beating this current Barca side in game of such high magnitude, that team needs to play a perfect game, plus more than a splash of good fortune. However, Juve did not manage to execute the perfect game plan, conceding within the first five minutes, let alone the much talked about first 20 minutes.
Juve needed to be tight at the back for the start of the game, yet they were trying to take the game to the opposition. Midfielders Marchisio and in particular Arturo Vidal were trying to get in the faces of Iniesta and Rakitic, but the Juve players were consistently played around and passed by in the first period of the game. Vidal was especially aggressive and seemed very likely to be sent off early in the game for two bookable offence, which would have made mission improbable definitely impossible for the Italians.
rakitic’s opener dismantled juve’s pre-game strategy
Max Allegri’s strategy to stay tight to the Barca players eventually led to much space being exposed in the Juve box, which led to Rakitic’s fine opener. And if not for Buffon, one of Dani Alves, Suarez or Neymar would have surely scored a second, seeing the space they were finding in the penalty area.
When Juve eventually seriously took the game to Barca at the start of the second half, they could not capitalise on their momentum and sustained pressure, especially after Morata’s equaliser. During a period where Juve was dominating, they could not find a second, with penalty shouts from Paul Pogba and a couple of potshots from long range. Eventually, Barca scored against the run of play, as the Italians had committed one too many men forward in their hope of scoring a go-ahead goal.
Barca: Worthy Treble Winners
At home, the Catalans, a proud region who see themselves as non-Spanish, took the La Liga title away from the Spanish capital’s rising power, before lifting the Copa del Rey ahead of Athletic Bilbao, the footballing representative of Basque, another separatist region in Spain.
In Europe, Barca triumphed over the champions of Netherlands, England, France and Germany before heading the final, where they faced the champions of Italy. And in the showpiece in Berlin, the Catalans duly delivered and secured an historic second treble, six years after their first. They played a final befitting treble winners, even managing to fight off a Juve side seeking a treble themselves and were themselves worthy finalists.
This season, the Catalans have a South American attacking trio that eclipses even what their greatest rivals, Real Madrid, have in their armoury. Final goal scorers Suarez and Neymar may seem like the supporting acts for Messi, but the Uruguayan and Brazilian could easily be the main men at any of the current top five clubs in the world.
xavi just keeps winning, even as he exits his beloved club with legendary status
Their win also gave a club legend a fitting farewell. Xavi Hernandez, the Spaniard who has won every major honour with his club and country, will now add another Champions League medal to take his tally to four, along with eight La Liga medals and three Copa del Rey triumphs. Xavi was part of the first dominant Barca side of this era, an almost indispensable part of Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka machine. And even as he played a bit-part role this season behind Rakitic, Xavi still managed to adopt his style and contribute in his own unique way to this season’s treble winning side.
With Xavi leaving and a transfer ban to be enforced this year, Barca will now have to rely on their new signings like Suarez and La Liga ‘keeper Claudio Bravo, along with rising youngsters like Munir El Haddadi, Rafinha Alcantara and Sergi Roberto among others to continue the Catalans’ three front defence next season. And they will take some stopping.