Juventus vs Barcelona Champions League Final: Who Owns the Midfield Advantage

In Saturday’s Champions League Final between Juventus and Barcelona, the center of the pitch, and specifically the midfielders who make their living there, will decide the final. While legendary luminaries like Gianluigi Buffon and Lionel Messi will play their part, it’s the midfielders who will decide the match.

The center of the pitch is the one area where the two teams are the most comparable.

Juve’s defense, organized and led by Buffon, is Europe’s best goal-preventing unit. The Bianconeri held Borussia Dortmund, Monaco and Real Madrid to three goals, one of which was a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, while another came off a rare defensive error.

Similarly, Barcelona may boast Europe’s best goal-scoring unit with Messi leading an offensive unit that includes the likes of Neymar, Pedro and Luis Suarez.

When Juventus’ defense and Barcelona’s offense collide, the midfielders will be responsible for breaking the inevitable cancelling-out of the defense and offense.

The Juventus Midfield:

The Starters: Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal

The Key Reserves: Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Sturaro

The Old Lady’s starting quartet of midfielders are the secret to the team’s success. Much has been made of Juve being a defensive juggernaut, which they are. However, the midfield might be Juventus best group of players (which is significant because you have Buffon in goal and Carlos Tevez leading the attack).

The four generally line up with Pirlo sitting deep, dictating play and providing killer long balls. Two of the remaining three flank the midfield maestro while the fourth plays in a more advanced position, supporting the strikers. All three have found success in the advanced role, with Vidal getting the nod in both of Juve’s matchups with Madrid.

 Off the bench, the two most likely names to be called are Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Sturaro. Pereyra is one of Max Allegri’s most called-upon reserves and earned minutes in both legs against Los Blancos. The Udinese-loanee provides a spark off the bench and generally comes on to provide fresh, relentless legs to run at the defense. While Pereyra operates higher up the pitch, Sturaro is more centrally located, combative and defensive presence. His deflection of James Rodriguez header ended up putting Juve through to the final.

The Barcelona Midfield:

The Starters: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic

The Key Reserves: Xavi, Rafinha

Barcelona continues to use their patented 4-3-3 system with Sergio Busquets operating as both a passing outlet and a last-line of defense. His defensive ability lets Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic do damage offensively, with the former often playing much higher up the pitch than his two midfield teammates.

Coming off a summer transfer from Sevilla, Rakitic has moved into Xavi’s place in the starting eleven, providing seven goals and eight assists across all competitions. Rakitic possess great technical skill, maybe not on the level of the man he replaced in midfield, but good nonetheless.

Coming off the bench, Xavi has been severely limited this season, but has still managed to hand out eight assists while scoring two goals as a deep-lying playmaker. In what will be his final game in a Barcelona shirt, Xavi will likely start on the bench. Given the number of appearances (seventh most on the team in La Liga, ninth most in the Champions League) despite the lack of starts, you’d think he would get into the match at some point.

Joining him on the bench is Rafinha, the brother of Bayern Munich’s Thiago. Similar to his brother and most all Barcelona midfielders/players, Rafinha is adept on the ball. At 22, he’s also developing as a contributor on defense. He has one goal and three assists in 30 appearances in all caps, generally playing in the center of the park.

Verdict: Juventus

Playing the game is a completely different story, but on paper, Juventus would seem to have the advantage. They have perhaps the best deep-lying playmaker in the world surrounded by a trio of excellent two-way midfielders who are world class on both sides of the ball. This is a stark contrast to Barcelona, who very much rely on Busquets to do the dirty work on defense so Iniesta and the other attackers can run free.

For more Soccer/Football, click here. For more Juventus, click here. For more from the world of Serie A, click here. To see Vine videos, (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights) click here.

To see highlights of the Bianconeri’s triumph over Real Madrid, click herehere and here.

For highlights of Barcelona’s triumph over Bayern Munich, click here.

All stats courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com/ unless otherwise noted.

2015 Champions League Final Storylines to Watch: Juventus vs Barcelona

With Juventus set to face Barcelona in Berlin next month, here are some early storylines to watch for.

Rest

With the Scudetto already in hand, Juve will be able to limit playing time for their key performers. You can bet Max Allegri will play his players just enough to keep them sharp, but will give them significant rest. The added time will also allow Paul Pogba time to shake off any lingering rust from his injury lay-off. Juve will play Lazio in the Coppa Italia Final in Rome on May 20th.

Barcelona may have La Liga in hand, but haven’t won it yet. They’ll face a tough test from Atletico in Madrid before finishing up against Deportivo La Coruna on the 23rd. Like Juve, they’re in position to win their domestic cup as well. Barcelona will host Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey Final.

Giorgio Chiellini vs Luis Suarez: BiteGate 2.0

Chiellini was superb against Madrid and will a shot at revenge against Suarez, who along with the rest of the Uruguay knocked Chiellini (and six other Juve players including Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo) out of the World Cup. Oh yeah, Suarez also bit Chiellini.

Patrice Evra vs Suarez

Like Chiellini, Evra has his own history with Suarez. The forward racially abused the Juventus defenseman when Evra was with Manchester United and Suarez was with Liverpool. You can bet that Juve will be up to the challenge of defending Suarez, especially if he tries attacking the left side of the Juventus defense. Juve play with a back four. The team’s preferred left back and left-center back pairing? That would be Chiellini and Evra.

Carlos Tevez vs Javier Mascherano

The former West Ham teammates made a controversial move to England from South America. The Argentines now find themselves on opposite sides of the pitch.

The Italian Defenders vs Yet Another Vaunted Attacking Trio

After making Madrid’s attacking trident of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema uncomfortable and largely ineffective, the central defense combination of Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, along with outside backs Evra and Stephan Lichtsteiner will be tasked with slowing down another potent attacking trio, this one made up of Lionel Messi, Neymar and the cannibal Suarez

Buffon for the Win

The World Cup winner has yet to lay his hands on a Champions League trophy. Based on his reaction to defeating Real Madrid, you can bet he’ll want to take down Los Blancos biggest rivals as well.

Andrea Pirlo vs Iniesta and/or Xavi

The matchup between the Old Lady and the Spanish giants will feature three of the most talented and successful midfielders of the last 15 years. Must see TV to put it plainly.

Opposites Attract

Juve a strong defensive team thanks to a defensive foundation that know each other’s tendencies inside and out. While the Bianconeri don’t receive enough credit for their offense, their defense will be on display versus the talented attacking trio of Barcelona.

For more Soccer/Football, click here. For more Juventus, click here. For more from the world of Serie A, click here. To see Vine videos, (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights) click here.

To see highlights of the Bianconeri’s triumph over Real Madrid, click here, here and here.

For highlights of Barcelona’s triumph over Bayern Munich, click here.

Your Say

Did you think I missed any storylines to watch? If so, let your thoughts be known in the comments.

#Bayern Munich vs #Barcelona: Watch Champions League #Vine Highlights

For more Vine videos (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights), click here. For more Soccer/Football, click here.

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich Champions League Vine Highlights: All Goals

For more Vine videos (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights), click here. For more Soccer/Football, click here.

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich Champions League Vine Highlights: Lionel Messi’s First Goal

For more Vine videos (including Champions League highlights and Europa League highlights), click here. For more Soccer/Football, click here.

2014 World Cup: Competition is Wide Open

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is winding down. Gone are the days of the group stage where four games took place on the same day. Arrived are the quarterfinals. The final eight. While pre-tourney favorites Brazil, Argentina and Germany are still alive, but they have looked flawed. As have teams like France and the Netherlands who have impressed since the first kick.

The final eight is loaded with favorites and under-dogs alike, but many have looked vulnerable so far.

Hosts Brazil may have been the field’s biggest favorites, but they have looked anything but perfect so far. They survived by the scruff of their necks in their penalty shout out win against Chile due more to the Chileans inability to convert penalties then anything they did themselves.

It wasn’t just the surviving act against their fellow South Americans, Brazil looked susceptible in the group stages. They were shout out by an admittedly strong defensive Mexican unit, looked shaky early against the Croatians and even struggled for a period against a dreadful Cameroon side.

Brazil aren’t the only South American team to struggle at times in both the group stage and the knockout rounds, Argentina also struggled. The Argentines needed moments of brilliance from Lionel Messi to pull away from Bosnia, Iran and to an extent Nigeria. That’s not mentioning their Round of 16 game against Switzerland where they escaped penalties only thanks to a late strike by Angel Di Maria.

Another tournament favorite, Germany also looked human at times. After their sheer domination of Portugal, they didn’t look like favorites in a draw against a spirited Ghana squad before escaping the United States in a 1-0 win thanks mainly to a clinical, world-class finish from Thomas Muller. Algeria gave the European powers everything they have, and almost forced penalties in a 2-1, extra-time victory by Die Mannschaft. There’s also the fact that Jogi Low seems to prefer playing four center-backs across the back instead of two central defenders, and two outside backs. This limits the Germans going forward and also exposes them to quicker attacking wide players.

Other teams that struggled in the first round included the Netherlands and Belgium. The Dutch played a strong Mexican defense, and only won the game due to some late game heroics. For 80 minutes, it seemed as if the Europeans would crash out after an impressive group stage. Their Belgian counterparts played the US to a dead-lock after 90 minutes. They prevailed in extra time 2-1, but only after their now trademark late scoring. Belgium has thrived on goals late in close games. The competition will only get tougher, so the Belgians could find their late goals too little, too late against elite teams. The Red Devils also seemed to break down physically at the end of the Round of 16 contest, letting the United States back into the game. This could be an issue moving forward.

The tournament is wide open thanks to the struggles of nearly every team in the competition. While picking a winner seemed somewhat easy a month ago, now it seems more difficult despite fewer options.

2014 FIFA World Cup Preview: Handicapping Brazil’s Biggest Competition

Brazil is going into the 2014 FIFA World Cup as favorites. Not only are the Brazilians a tremendously talented team with the quality to win a World Cup, they are also the host nation. These two factors put them as one of the favorites, if not the overall favorite. If the Selcao can replicate the form they showed at the Confederations Cup, they could be lifting another trophy.

Here’s a look at the home country’s biggest competitors come next summer.

Spain

The Spanish are the defending champion. That in itself makes them a favorite. Take that and add the quality of the players that Spain’s team is littered with, and La Roja will go far. Spain’s issues are in the back and up front. They still haven’t settled on a number nine, and aren’t the best in central defense. Throw in the fact that Iker Casillas may be rusty and/or slowing down by next summer, and you have some problems. Spain could face problems against complete teams like the Selcao, Germany and Italy. The midfield dominance will win del Bosque’s team some games and keep them in some more, but upper-tier countries will give Spain issues.

Italy

Spain won’t be the only European power that could upset Brazil’s apple cart. The Azzurri will also be strong. Italy may not come off as a side that belongs in the “Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and Germany” discussion, but that may be the best thing possible for the Italians. Since Cesare Prandelli has taken over, the peninsula’s football team has gained a reputation of playing strong in big tournaments. Prandelli likes to use friendlies as a way to experiment with his team, trying different players in different formations. All that experimenting has led strong showings in top competitions. Italy redeemed themselves in Euro 2012 not only by playing Spain tight in two games, but also beating England and demolishing Germany on their way to the final. Italy has performed well in tournaments, but they are also the “bogey” team for many teams. The Italians have never lost to England in a World Cup and are unbeaten against Germany in all competitions. They also hold the distinction of being the first team to figure out how to crack the puzzle that is the Spanish.

Germany

A rare mix of technical efficiency and physical dominance, Germany are one of the favorites in Brazil. Like Spain, their strength is in their midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and friends are almost a younger, more athletic version of Spain’s midfield. Sticking to similarities with the Spanish, Germany could have problems at the number nine spot. Miroslav Klose is getting up there in age. There are injury concerns with other strikers, so goals from that spot could be a problem. The Germans will have no issues at the back as Manuel Neuer remains one of the best keepers in the world.

Argentina

Brazil’s closest competition from a geographical, the Argentines’ strength is a ruthless attacking force that includes Angel Di Maria, Erik Lamela, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and, of course, the worlds’ best, Lionel Messi. Argentina’s attack is so absurd, I’m not even going to write about their ok defense. The Argentines’ success will depend on their attack, and to an extent, Messi. If Messi is on, the South American side will be tough to stop. On the other hand, if Messi is injured, or off his game, then this team will be somewhat easier to beat. Argentina’s offense will carry them. Whether that leads to a World Cup remains to be seen.

 

Be sure to check knowhitter on a regular basis for more about the World Cup, and sports in general.

2014 FIFA World Cup Draw: Winners, Losers and Teams that Must be Careful

Winners-

Argentina

An easy group for Lionel Messi and friends. A group of Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina is the closest thing to a cake walk as you can get. If the French play up to their potential and win Group E. Argentina could be looking at one of Ecuador, Switzerland or Honduras in the next round. (This assuming they win their group. Going out on a limb.)

France

Les Bleus were arguably seeded with weakest of first two, maybe three pots: Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

Columbia

One of the tournament dark horses have drawn the “group of life” with Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan. The draw isn’t the easiest, but it is certainly doable.

The Group G Winner

Should this be Germany, the winners will take on the runner up out of a group of Belgium, Russia, Algeria and South Korea in the next round. The Germans could be looking at quarterfinal group.

Brazil

Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon isn’t the easiest group, but it surely isn’t the hardest. That group and home-field advantage should allow Brazil to progress with ease.

Italy’s Knockout Round Chances

Group D certainly isn’t easy. Italy was dealt a blow when they were moved to the second pot. They should they win the group, which is something that isn’t out of the question. Then they get the runner-up out of a foursome that includes Colombia, Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan. Even if Italy was to finish second, the winner of Group C isn’t going to be that much more difficult than the runner-up.

Belgium

Another dark-horse pick who got a kind draw.

Germany

The Germans have the defensive prowess to shut down Portugal Ronaldo. Ghana and the United States will be tough, but if Germany plays to its fantastic potential, they should win this group. Not only that, but they avoided perennial bogey team Italy. The only way the Germans and Italians meet is in the Final.

 

 

Losers-

Spain

La Roja have to play a Chile team who has played them tough recently. The Netherlands aren’t exactly a walk in the park either.

England

Stuck in an awfully tough group with Italy who nipped them at previous Euros as well as goal-scoring Uruguay.

USA

The Americans have a horrendous travel schedule to match a horrendously tough group. Old World Cup friend Ghana, Germany and a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal team, await the Yankees in the group stage. If there was ever a “group of death,” this would be the one.

Group A and B’s runners up

These teams could face Brazil and Spain, respectively, in the semi-finals.

 

 

Teams that have to be careful-

England

Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and the attacking prowess of the Uruguayans will cause the British many problems. If Luis Suarez has his way against the English the same way he has had against Premier League opposition, it could be a long day for the Three Lions. That’s not to mention a disciplined Italian side that knocked England out of the last European Championships.

 Mexico

The Mexicans may feel like they got an ok draw despite being in a group with Brazil, but games with Cameroon, and especially Croatia, will be tougher than expected.

Portugal

The Portuguese struggled to qualify, and got into the cup mainly on the back of Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a tough task to shut down Ronaldo, but should it happen, Portugal is very beatable if they’re facing a quality side.

Spain

Chile has played Spain tough. There is the smallest chance that Spain doesn’t get through with Chile and the Dutch progressing. That’s probably not going to happen, but the possibility is there. Problem team Italy could await them in the quarterfinals. Spain has had troubles with the Italians of late.

Argentina

The Argentines will run through their group with ease. After that will be the issue. The team will be riding high entering the next round. A potential knockout round matchup with France could spell trouble for them purely based on the fact that Argentina could hit a wall playing a tough team after obliterating three comparatively less-touted sides.

 

Check back before the World Cup for more analysis on the event.

2014 FIFA World Cup Draw: Winners

Argentina

An easy group for Lionel Messi and friends. A group of Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina is the closest thing to a cake walk as you can get. If the French play up to their potential and win Group E. Argentina could be looking at one of Ecuador, Switzerland or Honduras in the next round. (This assuming they win their group. Going out on a limb.)

France

Les Bleus were arguably seeded with weakest of first two, maybe three pots: Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

Columbia

One of the tournament dark horses have drawn the “group of life” with Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan. The draw isn’t the easiest, but it is certainly doable.

The Group G Winner

Should this be Germany, the winners will take on the runner up out of a group of Belgium, Russia, Algeria and South Korea in the next round. The Germans could be looking at quarterfinal group.

Brazil

Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon isn’t the easiest group, but it surely isn’t the hardest. That group and home-field advantage should allow Brazil to progress with ease.

Italy’s Knockout Round Chances

Group D certainly isn’t easy. Italy was dealt a blow when they were moved to the second pot. They should they win the group, which is something that isn’t out of the question. Then they get the runner-up out of a foursome that includes Colombia, Greece, the Ivory Coast and Japan. Even if Italy was to finish second, the winner of Group C isn’t going to be that much more difficult than the runner-up.

Belgium

Another dark-horse pick who got a kind draw.

Germany

The Germans have the defensive prowess to shut down Portugal Ronaldo. Ghana and the United States will be tough, but if Germany plays to its fantastic potential, they should win this group. Not only that, but they avoided perennial bogey team Italy. The only way the Germans and Italians meet is in the Final.

Check back later for the losers of the draw as well as teams that have to be careful.

Six Things We Learned from Italy After the Netherlands Friendly

(Disclaimer: I don’t profess to know a ton about football. I just love the beautiful game.)

  1. Andrea Pirlo’s genius, pace and the fouls/free kicks he draws. Some people play on a whole other physical level, or a whole other level in terms of speed. The latter is Pirlo. (Also, isn’t it nice that in football/soccer, wherever you’re from, a players is simplified to just one name? Even if he hasn’t shortened his name to one name. Messi is called Messi when his full name is Lionel Messi, etc. Anyways, it lends itself to lazy typers like me, and the rest of the world for that matter.) Pirlo plays the game almost methodically. You know when basketball gurus say that the game has “slowed down” for some players? That’s Pirlo. He slows it down. While the tempo killing can sometimes be hard to watch, the Italian midfield maestro always makes the right pass, even if he has to slow down to do it. Expanding on that, especially in the match against the Dutch, everyone else was going 110 miles an hour (if you will) while Pirlo was cruising at a comfortable 85. The result of this is that a lot of hand checks and fouls that might go un-noticed were noticed as Pirlo drew multiple free kicks by simply playing at the speed he feels comfortable playing. I should also point out his genius. Which he is, by the way. Every game there are about three to four plays where he makes a pass that could open up the defense. If your defense gives Pirlo milk and curds he turns it into Swiss cheese. (Especially if he’s playing against the Swiss.)
  2. Buffon does it again. Where Pirlo makes three or four passes that unlock the defense, Gigi Buffon makes three or four saves that the average Joe keeper wouldn’t make every game. He did this again on multiple occasions against the Dutchmen.
  3. Sub Par? Not to say that the starters were lacking, but the substitutions of Pablo Osvaldo, Alessandro Diamanti, Alberto Gilardino and Marco Verratti certainly changed the game in a positive way.
  4. Slick Whats? The field was very slick in case you didn’t notice. At least half a dozen players hit the turf, one of which quelled a promising Italian attack.
  5. Friendly Strategy. (That faux headline didn’t work, but stick with me.)  Cesare Prandelli certainly isn’t using friendlies to get results. The Italy head-man consistently uses friendly games to test younger players and tinker with different pairings and lineups ahead of major tournaments. He’s using this strategy for the upcoming Confederations Cup as well as the Azzurri’s likely World Cup spot in Brazil in 2014.
  6. It’ll Work. Eventually. Italy’s spearheaded attack of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaaraway seemed to be a bit stagnant in the first half. While the Osvaldo/Diamanti/Gilardino trident worked, the former group will likely be the long and short-term options up front. They’ll figure it out eventually, playing together that is. After all they both play for AC Milan. They’ll be tested and ready by Brazil.

If I missed anything from the game that you thought was mention-worthy, tell me in the comments section.