Juventus 1-3 Barcelona
Miguel Delaney, Olympiastadion Berlin
After Barcelona had yet again proven themselves the best, Gerard Pique put it best.
“It’s unique,” the centre-half gushed.
That is really the only way to describe a generation of players who have ensured the Catalans are the first club ever to win two trebles. This is a historic group in football, and their delight was only deepened by the fact they also provided a historic image for Camp Nou, as man-of-the-match Andres Iniesta enthused.
“The picture of Xavi leaving with the Champions League is the most beautiful one for a player like him.”
The Catalan legend eventually left the Olympiastadion – and the club, given this was his last game – carrying the great trophy out along with his other long-time midfield partner, Sergio Busquets.
That was not just the perfect ending, to the perfect season, in which Barca won every trophy possible. The 3-1 win over Juventus was the perfect illustration of [open itals] why [close] they have won so much, given the variety of ways they undid the Italian champions, and how their elite attacking trio displayed the deep new dilemma they present to every opposition.
It started, however, with a glorious vignette of vintage Barcelona. All 10 outfield players were involved in the type of passing move that the club has seen as their ideal since Johan Cruyff first set a certain philosophy at Camp Nou in 1988, resulting in Ivan Rakitic prodding the ball past Gigi Buffon for a fourth-minute opener. Appropriately, given the nature of the team right now, there were also individual sparks of excellence within that collective brilliance. The peerless Leo Messi played the glorious arched ball that really got the attack moving, before Neymar so impressively improvised with a swift sideways pass that nobody expected except Andres Iniesta.
It is rare that a game as tense as a final offers such a fitting signature goal, and it seemed to set Barcelona up for a signature performance in the style of Real Madrid’s 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in 1960.
That didn’t quite come in that sense. Barcelona got a little too casual, and apparently a little too confident in their own ability. Iniesta admitted as much. “At 1-0 we had the chances to kill them off but we didn’t.”
Claudio Marchisio suddenly injected life into the contest with that 55th-minute back heel, Barca were caught out of step, and Alvaro Morata stepped up to score.
For a time, the Catalans looked frozen by the thought they might have blown it.
“We had 10-15 minutes when we were screwed,” Pique said. Instead, it only summed up why they are so good, and so hard to beat.
The dilemma for every single other team is that it’s so difficult to strike a balance between devoting the required players to trying to control Messi and the rest of that frontline, but also have enough over to attack themselves. Juventus got caught out by this, as they got emotionally swept along by their own equaliser. Messi finally had the space to do real damage, driving forward with the angry run that resulted in Luis Suarez winning the game. That is the grand difficulty.
Juve manager Max Allegri summed it up. “When you play against great players, you think you have things under control and then one of them gets away from you. At a time when we were about to score, I think.”
Neymar then added the ribbon to the trophy with with the last kick of the game to make it 3-1, but the wonder was whether this was also the last kick of the Luis Enrique regime.
It was the big question after the game, and the Barca manager refused to confirm he would remain as manager. Iniesta said he “hoped” Luis Enrique would stay, while Pique felt that would be the case.
It is a curious situation for a treble-winning coach, but one that is reflective of the criticism he received earlier this season, and the politics of the club. Joan Laporta may return as president this summer, and it is known that Luis Enrique does not totally tally with his preferences.
At the same time, it is hard not to think that the identity of the coach only matters to a certain degree with a group of players like this, even if that does seem harsh. As Franz Beckenbauer once put it about his great Bayern Munich of the 1970s, a squad that good really only needed a good psychologist, rather than a genius manager.
It is much the same with Barca. Although all of the players were careful to praise Luis Enrique, they couldn’t help going back to something deeper when explaining this success – the pool of talent.
“We were talking in the dressing room that this is one of the best generations we’ve had in the history of this club, and that they have the most talent,” Piquesaid.
They have the most trophies too. Six of the players who appeared in Saturday’s final also played in the 2009 showpiece that delivered the first treble, and eight played in the 2011 win. That has brought Barca four Champions Leagues in 10 years, which is a rate of success unparalleled in this era.
It isn’t a stretch to say the Catalans own the modern Champions League in the way they’re great rivals at Real Madrid owned the old European Cup.
“Really, it raises the hairs on your neck when you think back and see how lucky you have been to be at this club and win everything you have won,” Iniesta said.
“Six years ago, we thought to win the treble again was unrepeatable.”
They have done that. Now, the wonder is whether can claim a repeat Champions League win, and offer another crowning achievement – becoming the first club to retain the trophy since 1990.
In the modern game, that would also be unique.
Juventus (4-4-2): Buffon 7; Lichsteiner 5, Bonucci 6, Barzagli 6, Evra 6 (Coman 89); Pirlo 6, Marchisio 7, Vidal 4 (Pereyra 79), Pogba 7; Tevez 6, Morata 7 (Llorente 85)
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen 6; Alves 7, Pique 9, Mascherano 7, Alba 7; Busquets 9, Rakitic 9 (Mathieu 90), Iniesta 9 (Xavi 78); Suarez 7 (Pedro 90), Messi 9, Neymar 8