Finally, after nearly 10 days of constant, intriguing revelations in the ongoing FIFA scandal, there was something of a lull on Friday, allowing the soccer world to pause in order to focus on some big happenings this weekend.
As the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand marches on, with the group stages concluding Sunday, the Women’s World Cup also begins in Canada with a fascinating opener between the host and China on Saturday. MLS also boasts some intriguing match-ups, particularly Sporting Kansas City at home to first-place Seattle Sounders, and defending champ LA Galaxy hosting the second-place Vancouver Whitecaps.
Of course, there’s also the small matter of the biggest game in the world this year, the UEFA Champions League final in Berlin, between a pair of double-winners, Italy’s Juventus and Spain’s Barcelona.
With all the FIFA news, Off The Post feels that this year’s final hasn’t maybe received the attention it usually gets -- or maybe it’s just that OTP has been too busy with FIFA to notice.
In any event, let’s take a look at the big game.
There are some big questions heading into this year’s final, but none is bigger than: Does Juve stand a chance?
Indeed, most soccer-watchers and critics feel that despite having trounced the competition in Italy this season, Juve doesn’t really stand a chance this year because Serie A is not as strong as La Liga and Barca’s front-three is just too good to be contained
As ESPN contributor Michael Cox points out, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez and their sometime understudies have put in a staggering 90 percent of Barca’s goals this year. The trio alone has totaled 106 goals in the Spanish league and the UCL, in addition to some 46 assists
These are unreal numbers.
Everyone in the world knows that in order to stop Barca you must stop its front-three, but no team has yet been able to -- with the exception, perhaps of Celta de Vigo. Celta beat Barca 1-0 last fall in a game where Messi and Neymar each hit the woodwork twice. The mid-table club was arguably more effective in the reverse game, a 1-0 loss at home in which Barca’s front trio was largely ineffective, with defender Jeremy Mathieu eventually scoring late in the game through a set-piece.
In both games, Celta defended relatively high up the field, working extremely hard for each other to keep Messi & co out
Unfortunately, Juve will need a different strategy because its center-backs -- likely Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli in place of the injured Giorgio Chiellini -- aren’t the speediest. As Cox points out, Barca’s trio will crush Juve with its pace if the Italians try to defend too high.
Which means that Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri will most likely try to deploy a similar strategy to that which worked against Real Madrid: defend deep, let Barca have 80 percent of possession, minimize the defensive errors and try to catch the Spanish side on the break using the vision and passing of Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba, and the speed of forwards Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata.
It’s anybody’s guess whether such a strategy will work, but working in Allegri’s favor is the fact he knows exactly how his opponent will line up. However, by defending deep and giving Barca most of the ball, Juve could frustrate the Blaugrana, whose front trio is at its deadliest on the counter-attack. If Juve can minimize those situations and launch pinpointed counterattacks itself, the Serie A champ might just be able to eke out a win.