Eight Champions League final key battles: Barcelona v Juventus
To celebrate a fascinating Champions League final between odds-on 4/11 favourites Barcelona and Juventus (11/5 outsiders to lift the trophy), Coral football experts have assessed the key battles that are likely to take place on the pitch in Berlin.
We won’t see a reunion between injured Juve centre back Giorgio Chiellini and Barca striker Luis Suarez, following last summer’s World Cup biting debacle, but there are still some fascinating individual battles on the pitch.
Expect an all-Argentine encounter between former West Ham United teammates Tevez and Mascherano. Both have come a long way since that shared beginning at Upton Park when they first moved to Europe.
Mascherano has been a mainstay of the national set-up, while attacker Tevez has had to earn the right to play for his country again after three years of exile. Featuring in a tasty 12/1 wincast (max stake £20), Tevez will force fellow Champions League winner Mascherano to stick or twist, as the man who crossed the Manchester divide should drop deep.
Spain’s present and future face off here. Both have won this competition before, Morata last term and Pique on three prior occasions.
Like Tevez posing Mascherano the problem of stepping out from defence, Juve attacking partner Morata (a nifty 9/2 anytime chance) is most effective in the left channel, so Dani Alves may need to do some dirty work for once and assist Pique.
Here we have two players strong in the tackle, but possessing different attributes. Chile aggressor Vidal plays at the tip of a midfield diamond in Juventus’ run to the Champions League final, while Barca boy Busquets is an out-and-out anchorman.
Such a physical engine room encounter will be one for old school football fans to enjoy. Vidal’s all-round box-to-box ability may just shade it, and he is an outstanding 11/2 to cap such a display by scoring anytime.
Which is better, gliding guile or midfield power? We’ll find out when Iniesta and Pogba play one another!
Iniesta scored the most important goal in Spanish soccer history, an extra time World Cup final winner. To deliver again on the big stage, he is a 5/1 shot. Pogba, meanwhile, is France’s Golden Boy and the Old Lady’s prized asset, so punters can get a super 6/1 on him adding to a seasonal tally of eight strikes here.
Most football fans know how effective Azzurri metronome Pirlo is as a playmaker. Just over a year ago, Rakitic was helping Sevilla scoop the Europa League. He’s the one making a major step up, but the Croatia international has steady into Catalan club legend Xavi Hernandez’s shoes superbly this season.
It’s not necessarily about goals with these two, but what they can do with the ball. Pirlo must supply Vidal on the surge, Tevez in the hole and Morata in space down the channels. Rakitic’s mission to find that brilliant Barcelona front three as soon as possible, but we’ll come to them…
Defensive duties are not Switzerland wing back Lichtsteiner’s strong suit, so he’s fortunate that Brazil captain Neymar prefers to go infield. This poses its own problems, though.
Jordi Alba is likely to make overlapping runs down Barca’s left. Does Lichtsteiner leave it to Leonardo Bonucci to handle Neymar when he cuts inside? The Samba Boys star shall be a handful for both, and punters can get 7/1 on Neymar playing a leading role in this year’s Champions League final by scoring two goals or more.
There’s still an old adage about chickens coming home to roost that applies here. Juve and Italy centre back Chiellini said he’d be ‘happy to hug’ ex-Liverpool hitman Suarez (4/1 to score first), but no mention of how tightly was made or whether it would come in the form of a headlock, but injury permits any revenge being meted out here.
Evra also has an axe to grind against Uruguay’s star striker, who is banned from playing at the Copa America following his World Cup bite on Chiellini. Lionel Messi may swap with Suarez, so the veteran France full back could get the chance to leave a mark of his own on this old enemy if he pops up in the right channel.
Can Azzurri and Juve icon Buffon keep out the best front three in world football? Suarez, Neymar and Argentina inspiration Messi have 120 goals between them!
In many ways, this is the ultimate key battle here. Buffon has kept 29 clean sheets across all competitions (19/4 to keep one more here) and, while his coach Massimiliano Allegri may be tempted to go with three centre backs in front of him to help out, a midfield numbers advantage would be scarified.
Messi has scored some ridiculous, out of this world goals, including when he beat four players to net the opener in the Copa del Rey final. To strike first again, he is a tasty 10/3.