Messi is an alien, that dedicates himself to playing with humans. The only hope is that this Saturday he will be from earth, like the rest of us
~ Gianluigi Buffon
Messi, Messi, Messi. It’s been the longest week ever. In the U.S., there is a massive media build up prior to the Superbowl where players are subjected to every conceivable question about their lives, their teammates, and the game. This week, the rest of the world focuses on a bigger game. A better game. A beautiful game. The 2015 Champions League Final. Despite the subplots (Suarez bit Chiellini, Suarez racist remarks toward Evra) and plots (Argentines all over the field) within plots (Midfield Masters in Final Games: Xavi v. Pirlo), most of the questions are some version of “How are you going to stop Messi?”
Can they stop Messi? Allegri thinks so. “I hope that tomorrow [Messi] is stoppable,” he said. “We have been thinking about him. Also about [Luis] Suarez and Neymar. We have to play well, and know that this will not end 0-0. We will have to score at least one goal.” So they’ll play on the counter. I think we knew that.
Giorgio Chiellini is out. Does that change things? Paolo Bandini doesn’t think so. He argues that in the Guardian that it might even help some. Andrea Barzagli will take Chiellini’s place.
Barzagli, though, is a more technically accomplished defender. At the start of this week, before the present injury scenario had unfolded, Buffon was invited by Uefa.com to go through Juventus’s players one by one, listing their individual qualities. He described Chiellini as “our strong man”, saying the player’s great weapon was brute force. Barzagli was simply “an exceptional defender. Certainly among the best three or four in the world.”
This choice of words was revealing. Chiellini and Barzagli are very different players, and the former’s absence will certainly cost Juventus a degree of physicality in defence. But how much will that matter on Saturday? Is aggression an especially useful tool for containing Messi and company, or is the real challenge simply to keep up with Barcelona’s movements in the first place?
The debate over how to slow down the Argentinian has raged all week on the peninsula. Great defenders past and present have been sought for their views on how he may be contained.
Alessandro Nesta enjoyed some brilliant duels with Messi late in his career, and was at the heart of a Milan defence that kept a clean sheet against Barcelona at San Siro in March 2012. Even then, however, the rossoneri did ship seven goals in three other meetings that season. “Against Messi a bit of luck is essential,” conceded Nesta in one interview this week. “I kicked him a few times, too.”
Michael Cox over at ESPN outlines the way to make it happen by saying that six opponents have stopped the Neymar, Messi, Suarez combo. Here are his three keys to stopping the big three.
The positioning of the backline is probably Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri’s most important decision. Juve simply can’t play too high up the pitch, because the pace of Barcelona’s attackers will destroy them. But dropping needlessly deep isn’t a viable strategy either, because the Spanish champions’ dominance will eventually break them down.
Juve must also remain disciplined in midfield. While they will start with a diamond midfield on paper, it’s likely that quartet will flatten into a more conventional midfield four with Arturo Vidal dropping in alongside Andrea Pirlo, and Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba covering wider areas.
Last, but not least, Juventus need a huge performance from goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who has never faced Messi before.
In the end, it seems that most people are predicting a Barcelona victory. They’re simply too good.
In truth, in a single game, anything can happen, but the discipline, focus, and determination required to beat Barcelona is very difficult to maintain. There’s a physical and mental discipline required to beat this team. Juventus is a veteran side and might just be able to do it, but I don’t see it.
Barcelona 3 – 1 Juventus