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.

#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.

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.