Barcelona completed an historic treble – their second one in seven years – and won a fifth Champions League title thanks to a 3-1 victory over Italian champions Juventus on Saturday night at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.
Luis Enrique’s side made the perfect start to their treble bid as Ivan Rakitic rounded off a brilliant team move in the fourth minute to give the Catalan giants an early lead. However, Juventus fought back in the second half to grab a footing in the game and they leveled the scores thanks to Alvaro Morata’s strike in the 55th minute. The goal gave Massimiliano Allegri’s side the confidence they needed, but just as they were starting to dominate the game, Luis Suarez and Neymar sealed Barcelona’s first Champions League title since 2011 and added the biggest prize in European football to their La Liga and Cop del Rey success this season.
LINEUPS AND FORMATIONS
Juventus (4-1-3-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Stephan Lichtsteiner, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Patrice Evra (Kingsley Coman 89); Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal (Roberto Pereyra 79), Paul Pogba; Carlos Tevez, Alvaro Morata (Fernando Llorente 85).
Juventus played with their usual formation, a 4-1-3-2 with a narrow midfield that shifted between a diamond shape and a flat line. Allegri was dealt with a huge blow just a couple of days before the final, when Giorgio Chiellini was ruled out meaning Barzagli came into the heart of defence alongside Bonucci, with Lichsteiner and Evra as the two full backs ahead of the skipper Buffon, who started in the between the posts. The midfield consisted of the usual quartet of Pirlo, Marchisio, Pogba and Vidal, with Pirlo sitting a bit deeper and playing the regista role. Tevez and Morata made the two upfront with Vidal becoming the link between the midfield and attack to provide more balance to the team.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic (Jeremy Mathieu 90+1), Andres Iniesta (Xavi 78); Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez (Pedro 90+6), Neymar.
As per expected there were no surprises on Luis Enrique’s teamsheet as they set out in their traditional 4-3-3 system. He stuck with his policy of using his second choice keeper in cup competitions which meant Ter Stegen started on home soil ahead of Claudio Bravo. It was the same back four consisting of Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano and Jordi Alba, with Busquets shielding them from midfield, and Iniesta and Rakitic as the two creative midfielders. Neymar, Messi and Suarez made the top three with Brazilian playing more wider than his Argentine teammate, who cut inside as a situational no.10, while the Uruguayan international was given the freedom to roam from side to side and also checked back into midfield to find the ball and make space for his teammate’s runs.
Juvetuns press high
As I had said earlier in my preview of the game, the key tactical question was how would Juventus approach the game without ball. Would they press high, or would they drop deep and allow Barcelona to play their game? In the opening minutes, it was clearly the former. The forwards pressed up high on the Barcelona centre-backs, Vidal was on Busquets, and the whole side took an extremely aggressive starting shape making it difficult for the Spanish side to play out of the back and it led to some simple errors. Mascherano, their least talented passer, twice conceded possession in the opening few minutes but Juve couldn’t capatalize on it as Tevez failed to test Ter Stegen. However, the Italians would have been happy with their start.
Barcelona took the lead after just four minutes from their first proper passing move, stunning Juventus at the time when the Italian champions were in control of the game. The goal was a brilliant team goal, which featured nine of Barca’s ten outfield players (except for Suarez). Juventus’ narrow shape in midfield allowed Messi to switch the ball from one side to the other and he pinged a beautiful cross-field pass to Jordi Alba. The full-back laid the ball off to Neymar, who picked out the run of Iniesta into the box before he squared for Rakitic to sweep beyond Buffon to complete a superb team goal.
The goal characterized the whole collective/individual thing that Barcelona do way better than any other side. It’s not just being unselfish, but it’s being unselfish and that to purposely. It’s teamwork in which the parts can’t be interchanged because some guys can do things which others cannot, but when it works it is just beautiful to the eye and it is football at it’s very best.
The midfield battle
After scoring the early goal, Barcelona again started working the ball out of defence effectively. Juventus’ narrow midfield typically makes it hard for the opponents to play through, but Barcelona’s ability to both keep possession through the middle and utilize the wide spaces proved key. Rather than being discouraged from passing in the central channel, Barca moved the ball around until they could use the middle area to create chances.
Juventus had to decide whether to sacrifice the compactness of its midfield shape by pressuring in wide areas or to pull a fullback out of position to deal with the wide players on flanks. Barcelona waited and reacted. If the Juve midfield stayed narrow and compact (as in the above image), they would pass the ball around the middle block. If the midfield flattened out to form a flat four man midfield (as in the below image), the attacking players would tuck in and allow the fullbacks to provide the width.
Barcelona mixed their midfield and forward lines with Juventus’ middle block (as in the above image), forwards dropping between lines and midfielders occupying their position or zones. For example, when Messi tucked in a more central area, Rakitic would take his position and that created a bit of confusion in the Juventus midfield about who was tracking who and that made them a bit disorganized. That led to Barcelona out-passing their opponents in the middle-third and creating the number of chances they did.
The most unusual feature of Juventus’s play in the first half was the strange performance of Vidal. The Chilean international is one of the best all-round footballers in the world. He is brilliant technically, capable of playing any role in midfield and has tremendous ability with or without the ball. He is also very aggressive, but he failed to control that side of his game in Berlin and played like a madman. He played an important role in last summer’s World Cup when Chile beat Spain by pressing Busquets continuously, and maybe was trying to recreate that performance. However, he didn’t succeed. He committed a lot of fouls in the first half and his tackles were frequently unsuccessful. He was booked in the 11th minute and was perhaps a little fortunate not to have picked up another booking before half time. His performance in the first half summarized Juve’s troubles at 1-0 down.
Both teams were discipline
Both the teams stayed disciplined and compact throughout the first half, bar Vidal. Each player was given a specific role and they performed it perfectly. While Tevez and Morata had started the game pressing higher up on the Barcelona defenders in the first four minutes, they both usually dropped back to position themselves on either side of Busquets when Juventus didn’t have the ball, leaving Mascharno and Pique time on the ball without any pressure. Similar thing happened at the other end. Because of Juve’s narrow four-man midfield, it meant they were going to be 4 v 3 in the middle of the park, but Suarez dropped back and stopped easy passes being played to Pirlo. He roamed along with the Italian maestro like his shadow making it difficult for him to dictate the tempo and that was one of main reasons why Juve failed to control the game for long periods.
Juve back in the game
Juventus regrouped at half time and settled down in the game. Vidal mainly settled down and remained more disciplined, making more intelligent movements when Juve had the ball. The Italian champions had been a very good counter-attacking team all season and again got their best chances of the match on the break against Barcelona. They were on level terms within 10 minutes after the restart from something that hadn’t previously happened in the game. Leichtsetiner burst forward on the right flank past Neymar, who showed no interest to track his run, and was helped by Marchisio’s intelligent backheel. He got past his man and passed it on to Tevez whose shot on the turn was well saved by Ter Stegen, but the ball broke kindly for Morata to fire home for the equaliser.
Suddenly, it was Juventus who were full of confidence and believing they could go on to win the game. On the other hand, Barcelona lost all their compactness, with forwards contributing little without the ball. They remained in their position and didn’t fall back, while the defence dropped deeper, which meant Juve briefly had the complete control of the midfield. Suarez stopped closing down on Pirlo which left him free to control the game. That resulted in Busquets moving ahead to shut him down and that created some gaps in midfield which lead to chances. However, both Tevez and Pogba failed to capatalize on those chances but for some ten minutes Barca had lost control and were outnumbered in the midfield.
Barca score on the counter
One of the main features of this game was Barcelona scoring when Juventus were dominating and that was party because they were very dangerous on the counter-attack. This wasn’t always a feature of their game under Pep Guardiola, sometimes Xavi would purposely slow down the tempo of the game but it has been one of the key elements since the arrival of Luis Enrique and Suarez in the summer. Nonetheless, it was their most effective route to goal in the second half.
The warning signs were there throughout the match for Juventus to take. They had a throw-in on the right side, ten yards from the opposition corner flag, and had committed lots of men forward. Barca won the ball and worked it forward quickly to Messi, who drove at the heart of the Juve back four, which was somewhat exposed by his pace. The Argentine international shot at Buffon, who could only parry the ball into the path of Suarez. The former Liverpool striker smashed the ball home before running away to celebrate with Barcelona fans.
Neymar makes it three in injury time
The second goal was the killer blow for Juventus and it showed from their body language. They hardly created any chance since the goal to test Ter Stegen except for that effort in the dying minutes by Marchisio which the German international had to turn behind, otherwise it was all comfortable for Barcelona. The substitutions made barely changed the tactical shapes of either team and almost every sub was a straight swap. Xavi for Iniesta, Pereyra for Vidal and Llorente for Morata. None of them had any major impact on the game, except for the final sub, Pedro who teed up Neymar for the third goal.
Again, it was a counter-attack goal, and again, Juve were having a decent spell. This time it was deep into injury time with a desperate, last-chance free-kick from half line towards the box. Pique won two back-to-back brilliant headers before Messi passing it to Neymar on the run, who gave it to Pedro only for him to get it back and drilled it past Buffon in final action of the match to crown Barcelona champions of Europe for a fifth time.
It’s very hard to choose one player who performed the best on Saturday night as there were many standout performances. Messi was once again influential and had a role to play in all of Barcelona’s three goals, while Neymar troubled the Juve defence throughout the game with his movement and also bagged the third goal. Pique was a pillar at the back and probably had one of his best games in the heart of the defence. Busquets was the vital cog in the midfield and rarely lost possession as he helped subdue the game in his side’s favour. Rakitic was brilliant in midfield and read the game well to find himself in the right place at the right time to score the opening goal. But in the end, it was Iniesta who impressed the most on the night. He was at his best throughout the game and it’s remarkable how he always performs his best on the big occasions – World Cup final, Euro final and now the Champions League final. The Spanish maestro was calm and cool in the middle of the park and dictated the tempo of the game. He lived true to his name, running past Vidal and rolling the perfect pass across to gift Rakitic the opener. That late run into the box to set up the opening goal summed up his influence on the game and put in a wonderful display in midfield.
It’s a historic win for Barcelona as they become the first ever club side to win the treble twice and are now even with the likes of Bayern Munich and Liverpool for third-most titles of all time, two behind AC Milan and five behind Real Madrid’s record of ten. They had not lifted the trophy since Wembley 2011 and now having finally won the the silverware following the quarter-final exit to Atletico Madrid in 2013-14 and semi-final exits to Chelsea and Bayern Munich in 2011-12 and 2012-13 respectively. Barcelona’s best team in recent history, led by the likes Messi, Neymar, Suarez, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique and Rakitic, will now fancy themselves to gain more glory and dominate European football for few years to come just like they did under Guardiola. For Juventus, it’s missed opportunity as they had a chance to win their third European Cup and first once since 1996, but they could take some pride home as they lost to arguably the best team in football, period. For Xavi, it’s a dream come true and a remarkable end to a fairy tale like career at Barcelona, while for the likes of Buffon and Pirlo, the night ends in tears and hopefully they do get another chance next year to lift the holy grail in their own backyard.
Overall, the final was an entertaining one and an open affair with both teams enjoying of plenty of decent chances. Both teams played as they were expected to, in terms of shape and style. Barcelona dominated the possession and scored a superb team goal to take the lead, but were most dangerous on the counter-attack as they did many times in the second half. This more direct style of play and new found counter-attacking ability under Luis Enrique is the key why the Spanish champions won this game. Juventus gave their best, but in the end Barcelona were just on a different level and there was no stopping them. The pressure will be on the Catalan giants to defend their trophy next year, but for now, they can celebrate this success and their historic treble, which these players will remember for the rest of their careers, and one that they fully deserved.