For the fifth time in their storied history, FC Barcelona were crowned champions of Europe with a 3-1 victory over Juventus in Berlin. The Spanish champions came in as heavy favorites but Juventus pushed them to the brink in a match that felt closer than the final score line would suggest. This victory sealed a treble winning season for Barca who won La Liga, the Copa Del Rey and now the Champions League.
For both clubs, making it to this final was a bit of a return to glory feeling, although much more for Juventus who had not been to a European final since 2003. After a 2005 match fixing scandal that rocked Serie A and sent Juventus down to Serie B, it has been a long rebuilding process for the old lady to get back to this point. Even with their storied history and winning pedigree, Juve has been forced to build their team more through smart purchases of out of favor and younger players; unlike their opponents, who basically have the financial power to buy any player they want. It has also been a bit of a rebuilding effort for Barcelona, although in much less time, since Pep Guardiola’s exit in 2012. Since then, they have done some good transfer business putting together their excellent front line of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar; this trio got them back to a place where they, again, had a treble winning season.
The match started with Barcelona attacking and controlling the proceedings, leading to an early goal to put them ahead 1-0. Neymar found Iniesta in a great position in the box and the Spaniard unselfishly laid it off to Ivan Rakitic, who put his side in the lead only four-minute into the match. Juventus had a very hard time getting any attacks going through the first half, as Barcelona kept the pressure on creating a lot of chances by finding space in the Juve back line. Suarez had a couple of really good opportunities to double his side’s lead, but could not put them away; even though the Spanish side completely dominated the first half, they went into halftime with a slim 1-0 lead. It was a lead they looked more than capable of protecting, on the way to winning their fifth European title.
Coming out of halftime Barcelona were really pushing to get a second goal until a good counter attack saw Carlos Tevez get a shot that was parried right to Alvaro Morata who put it away to tie the match. The tying goal really gave Juventus confidence and they began taking the game to Barcelona. Although normally they are known for their possession play Barcelona began to invite Juventus attacks as the second half wore on. This led to Juve getting some really good chances but it also left them very exposed against the counter attack which really bit them in the end.
Paul Pogba was the epicenter of the Juventus attack all night, and may have been unlucky to not be awarded a penalty when Dani Alves took him down in front of net. Still reeling from that disappointment, Juventus got beaten by a gorgeously run counter attack orchestrated by Messi who weaved through the defense and got a shot that was saved, but Suarez finished the rebound and gave his side the 2-1 lead. At a point in the game when Juventus looked more likely to go ahead, the best player in the world (Messi) reminded everyone why he is exactly that and took the wind right out of the Italian side’s sail.
Only a few minutes after taking the lead Barcelona again got a great chance on the counter attack and looked to be going up 3-1 but Neymar’s headed effort was disallowed. His awkward header did make it into the net but was taken away because he headed it right into his own hand, he may have been unlucky to have the goal taken away because the handball was clearly inadvertent. Juventus continued to try to breakthrough the Barcelona defense after being given perhaps a lucky break but they could not get another goal. The match was sealed with the final kick of the match when Neymar set up another counter attack and blasted it past Gigi Buffon to get on the score sheet after having his first effort taken away.
The 3-1 final score did not truly represent how well Juventus played, as they were very close to leveling the score late on. The Italian champions should not be disappointed with their season, even though it ended on this disappointing note. Their journey to get to this point was very successful and they beat the previous years champions, Real Madrid, when no one thought they could.
This side that just won FC Barcelona their fifth European title may be their best team since Lionel Messi has been the face of the club, which is saying a lot because of how dominant they have been during his time. The attack line of him Suarez and Neymar could be perhaps the best and most lethal club football has ever seen, and the club needs to do all they can to keep those three together and happy, because they are once again the envy of every other club in Europe. Messi has now been a champion of Europe four times, and has already cemented his legacy as one of the best to ever play. The trio of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi have all now been so much apart of one of European soccer’s best runs of club success and it does not look to be coming to an end anytime soon.
By Max Petkevicius
ESPN: Juventus vs Barcelona
FiveThirtyEight: Barcelona vs. Juventus is the Strongest Champions League Final Ever
UEFA: Juventus v Barcelona
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