2014-2015 Champions League Final Prediction
By: Gabriel Munoz-Morris
My favorite part of the year is here at last. The NBA Finals are in full swing and the Champions league final is this Saturday, June 6th. This year is even more special for me as a FC Barcelona fan as they are set to play Juventus in the final. If you are following the series of articles that I am writing regarding this season’s Champions League you will know that I predicted that Real Madrid and Barcelona would make the final but I hoped that this would not happen. I did not think that the two hated rivals should meet in the Champions League final because it would not be a good game. The two teams are too focused on not making any mistakes when they play each other and do not cut loose in order to just play. There would have been too much referee bullying from both sides and I hate to see that. Considering how the Real Madrid – Juventus semi-final went, I was about one Morata goal from being right.
There is a certain irony that the man that Real Madrid sold last summer after he demonstrated that he was their next big home-grown forward was the man who ultimately cost them a ticket to their second consecutive Champions League final. I was sure that Real would come back to the Santiago Bernabeu and take the series. I mean they only had to win by one goal. Juventus went into the second leg of that series with the organized defense and counter-attacking prowess that is so often credited to Italian teams. They showed that soccer is not always about who can hold onto the ball the longest and take the most shots. Soccer is considered the beautiful game because teams that control 75% of a game like Real Madrid did can end up eliminated. You never know how a game will end before it begins. Juventus showed the world that they are a truly difficult team to beat in a two game series. It is interesting then, that their manager praised FC Barcelona for that exact facet of their game after it was known that the two teams would play each other in the upcoming final.
FC Barcelona are incredibly difficult to beat in a two game series for one reason: a two game series gives Messi, Neymar, and Suarez 180 minutes to hassle a defense and do everything in their power to score. Those three men, now the most effective goal-scoring trident in the history of soccer, score more than most European clubs do all season as a whole. The last time that Barcelona made a final their front three were Messi, Pedro, and Villa. Two of those men (Messi and Pedro) came up through Barcelona’s youth program and the other cost the team “only” 40 million euros. This time around the front three are totally different. Suarez, who came to the Camp Nou this past summer, cost 80 million euros. Neymar who preceded Suarez by a year cost roughly 96 million euros. No one really know those since the club alleges that the player only cost 57 million euros even though they are currently being investigated for fraud. If we are to assume the worst, the current Barcelona front three cost the team over 130 million euros more than the front three cost 4 years ago. This investment, if it had not paid off, would have been the subject of every debate in the online Barcelona forums. Due to the success the team has had this season (winning both national league and cup titles) the significant cost of acquiring these players has been all but passed over.
Speaking of passing over, let discuss the beat down that Barcelona gave Bayern in the semi-final. It all goes back to the Barcelona front three. The game in Barcelona was not as uneven as the scoreboard suggested. The two teams were pretty even the whole game. Bayern was even looking more deadly when Messi decided that enough was enough and did what only he can. He put two away in a matter of three minutes, broke Boateng in half, and gave Neymar the kind of pass that only a handful of players on this planet can give to make it three goals. That series was always going to be defined by a spark of talent from one or two players and who better to do just that than Messi? The return game in Munich was a consolation win for the Bayern players and their fans as two early goals by Barcelona put away the elimination even though the German side did not stop peppering Ter Stegen the entire game. The young goalie showed Barcelona fans why he is the future at the back for them. He is driven to win and some of the stops he pulled out to halt Lewandoski made me think instantly of Oliver Kahn. Ter Stegen will be tested again this Saturday but, as he is quickly showing, he can take whatever most teams have to offer and parry it.
Looking ahead to the much-anticipated final, I am sticking with my heart and predicting that FC Barcelona will come out on top. Juventus deserves all the respect, and fear they are due. No team that has made it to the final of a Champions League can be taken lightly. The two teams will have to be very weary of each other’s front lines as they are both deadly. The Italians score less than the Spaniards but they also concede fewer goals. The Italian back line, lead by Chiellini, is tough and fast. They have no problem introducing Neymar to the ground as soon as the game starts. They are true to their Italian style and would rather not risk anything. This tough defending is always made much easier when a team has one of the greatest goalies of all time at the back to clean up anything that does slip through the small cracks that are unavoidable. Buffon will be working overtime on Saturday to make sure that anything the Barcelona attackers blast his way does not find the back of the net. On the other end, Pique and his Barcelona defense will be on red alert for the famous Italian counter attacks that Tevez will lead, Pogba will power, and Pirlo will conduct. Look for Barcelona to have the ball and pass it around at will until they try to step insdie of 40 yards from Buffon’s goal. At that point a hell fire of Vecchia Signora will rain down on every Blaugrana ankle near the ball. This game is going to be decided by the same spark that decided the Barcelona-Bayern semi. The Barcelona front three will not need too many opportunities to make something happen and eventually will. Just keep your eyes open because it will happen quickly. If I had to predict a score I would guess a solid 2-0. Once the first Barcelona goal goes in, the Italians will press forward to try and even the score. At this point the Barcelona passing play will have the space it needs to operate properly and the final dagger will be thrust into the back of Buffon’s net.
If Juventus wants to win this game they have to shut down Messi. The whole Barcelona offense is skilled enough to make a difference in a game like this but Messi is the soul of this team. If the Italians can properly negate him then they stand a chance of taking the game and the title. The Barcelona defense really only works when the offense is clicking so the key to beating them lies in dismantling their offense.
No matter what happens this Saturday, the team who most deserves the win will take it. I hope that Barcelona will have 5 Champions League titles after this weekend but in that respect I am biased. Lets see if Juventus can pull off the slight upset though and take home their third. Either way, both teams have already had a wonderful season and this game will only be the cherry on top for each of them.