Saturday's final between Barca and Juventus in Berlin is meant to be a foregone conclusion. But, the Italian underdogs aren’t letting that bother them. After all, the "Old Lady" has played an amazing season back home.
You have to go back to 2010 to find an appearance by an Italian team in the Champions League final. Back then, it was Inter Milan who won Europe’s biggest title against Bayern Munich. Now, five years on, expectations are high again in Turin and across Italy, that the team known as the "Bianconeri" can win again.
A lot of that is due to Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, who has lead his chargers masterfully through a long season. After winning the Serie A with his team, then the Italian Cup, the former pro says he is not daunted by the upcoming match against Barcelona.
"It's enough to play well and to just do two or three things right," he says. "We have to prepare ourselves as well as possible, and then in a final a few episodes can decide the result. FC Barcelona has its qualities, but we have our own as well."
It’s fighting talk from Allegri – and you wouldn’t expect anything else – but that’s not to say that the Italians aren’t a little bit nervous though.
"It's a moment all football players dream about," says midfielder Claudio Marchisio. "We can't wait to go out, we've got to go out on the field and give everything."
"We know we have to play against a very good team. We know how much potential they have. But we're a strong group with a big heart," he adds. In fact, for the Italian team this could be the crucial ingredient.
After all, who would have wagered at the beginning of the season that Juventus would be in the Champions League final? The club’s group stage wasn't brilliant with three wins, one tie and two defeats. Then in the Round of 16 they turned started to show what they were capable ofthumping Borussia Dortmund
5-1 on aggregate.
It was their win against Real Madrid though that really went against the run of play.A 1-1 draw at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
was just enough to get the Italians through to the biggest match in European club football. In the first leg, the Old Lady had scraped a 2-1 win.
"We want to get to Berlin," said Andrea Pirlo straight after the first semifinal first leg against Real Madrid. The reasons, for Juventus’ stylistically-bearded playmaker, are personal of course.
Way back in 2006, Pirlo won the World Cup beside current Juve teammates Gianluigi Buffon und defender Andrea Barzagli at Berlin’s Olympic stadium. It wasn’t pretty but their win on penalties over France gave the Squadra Azzurra their fourth World Cup title.
Juventus' perfect mix
Now, Juventus has to face Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez: arguably the most impressive attacking trio in world football. But, with Allegri directing the plays, it could be possible.
After starting in summer last year, he’s mastered the heavy legacy of Antonio Conte, the architect of the first three Juventus championships in a row, and improved the team. "Allegri has renewed the team without distorting it and has significantly increased the team’s quality," said Italy’s famous sports newspaper "Gazzetta dello sport."
Since Allegri became Juventus coach, he has constantly developed the squad. Playing a 4-3-1-2 system he has strengthened the defence and built his team around strong personalities like Carlos Tevez and former Leverkusen player Arturo Vidal. The international experience of players like Buffon and Pirlo, combined with the fresh energy of youngsters like Alvaro Morata, who left Real Madrid last summer for 20 million euros, have contributed to Juventus’ success as well.
And their defense has been strong, as you’d expect. In the lead up to the final in Berlin, the Italians have conceded only one goal in their last four away matches in the Champions League. Even with the last-minute injury to experienced defender Giorgio Chiellini this week, the side should be strong enough to survive many of Barca's attacks.
In the Serie A, Juve have been rock solid. The team lost just three matches and let in only 24 goals. Since the fourth round, they never surrendered their position at the top of the table.
Aiming for the treble
Now, Italy’s most successful club is dreaming about the treble – just like Barcelona. For Juve, it would be the first time in the club's history that they had managed such a feat.
"It has been a very good year, exceptional actually - but it's not over yet," Allegri said back in May when his team won the Serie A, hinting at higher honors.
Juve goalkeeper legend Buffon, who has never won the Champions League, put it even more clearly: "We are not going to Berlin just to be tourists."