Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

The Champions League Final – A contrast in styles

By Lot Chitakasha

The Luis Suarez-Giorgio Chiellini dimension has added an interesting sub-plot to the drama that promises to unfold in Berlin on 6 June 2015. Every keen follower of the beautiful game knows about the unfinished business between the two in the just ended World Cup which resulted in Suarez being banned for sinking his teeth into Chiellini’s shoulder.

The Champions League Final - A contrast in styles
The Champions League Final – A contrast in styles

Needless to say that on this night, there will be added scrutiny on Suarez as he confronts once more the battle hardened Chiellini. The focus of this article however is on the contrasting styles that will be on show on this day. The two teams, Barcelona and Juventus come from two different traditions and football fans will be keen to see which style triumphs.

Any student of the modern game will accept that the Spanish style in general and the Barcelona one in particular has taken the world by storm in the past decade. Ever since Spain started winning trophies including the World Cup in South Africa and Barcelona won two champions league finals under Gurdiola, everyone has accepted Tiki-Taka as the way forward.

It is important to note that Spain was always regarded as perennial under achievers despite their cultured play and Barcelona only achieved European Champions league success as late as 1992, they have always lived in the shadows of their arch-enemies Real Madrid in this competition.

As I earlier stated in Football styles [2015], tiki-taka is a philosophy based on possession football, its mantra is to dominate the ball. A by-product of the Total Football philosophy first espoused by Rini Michels the legendary coach, this system‘s most ardent disciple was Johan Cruyff who introduced it to Barcelona as a player and coach.

The Barcelona academy, the La Masia tries to produce an adaptable, technically astute footballer able to retain possession under pressure and is able to rotate positions when the need arises. Passing and moving are the basics of football and Barcelona have mastered this.

A mobile midfield of technically gifted pass-masters is key in this system and the current Barcelona team has been blessed with the wizardry of Iniesta and Xavi with the added bonus of the three Amigos-Messi, Neymar and Suarez. It is most likely that this team will end up with the treble adding a feather to the blossoming career of Luis Enrique the coach.

If the above scenario happens, then the Barcelona way will continue to dominate football debate for a long time to come. A lot of factors have contributed to the Barcelona success over the years, coaches like Cruyff, Guardiola, players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Stoikhov, but I think what stands out is that they have an identity.

They have a way of playing that they are committed to and has led them to world dominance. Their current attacking three of Messi, Neymar and Suarez are an envy for any football coach.

The current Barcelona team seems to have a soft spot in defence. Since the departure of Carlos Puyol, a warrior, Gerard Pique has become the main man. He divides opinion but his supporters highlight his ability to play the ball out of defence acting as a launch pad for attacks.

Opposition strikers might feel that they have a chance because he is obsessed with playing the perfect clearance an aspect which can lead to mistakes. Sometimes, as Allan Hansen the former BBC match of the day pundit would say, defenders just need to defend and not try to be too clever. In this final, Pique’s battle with Tevez will be eagerly awaited.

In the black and white corner on the night will be the Old Lady of Italian football, Juventus.

European Champions twice, Juventus are rooted in a different football school of thought. I stated earlier in Football STYLES [2015], that most Italian teams adopted the Cettanacio loosely translated as the door bolt, which was formulated by Austrian coach Karl Rappan and perfected by Helenio Herrera at Inter Milan in the 1960’s.

The style is premised on the idea that if the opposition cannot score they cannot win matches. [Football Bible Newsletter retrieved 20.04 2015]. Defence is paramount in this style and one has to admit that the Italians are the masters of defence.

Logic dictates that Juventus will sit back, like they did against Real Madrid in the semi-final and attack when the opportunity arises. In Buffon, they have a battle-hardened professional, and in Chiellini they have an aggressive, physical and hard tackling veteran who is also a danger on set- pieces and will add solidity.

Patrice Evra a veteran of many battles in Europe will add an attacking threat from the back. In midfield, the highly rated Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and the genius of Andre Pirlo will bring dynamism to this vital department. Upfront the hard working Tevez and the emerging talent of Morata will cause problems to the Barcelona defence.

Writing for the Telegraph [15-05- 2015], Henry Winter pointed out that against Real, Juventus had the lesser players but had a stronger work ethic, team unity and midfield balance. I think this will be evident again on June 6.

In the midst of this discussion, one has to accept that Barcelona have added some pragmatism to their style under Luis Enrique. They are not averse to playing the long ball something regarded as taboo under previous coaches. Their second goal in the semi-final first leg was evidence of this, a long punt from the keeper, a flicked header by Messi to Suarez who crossed to Neymar to score..nothing close to tiki-taka.

It remains to be seen whether they will mix it up or stick to their football ideology. One has to admit that any team with these three as attackers has a great chance of winning any match. On the other hand, one has to acknowledge that in Andre Pirlo, Juventus have one of the greatest passers of the ball adding a sophistication to the traditional Italian defensive style.

As the world awaits the big final with it Suarez-Chiellini subplot, the football will take will centre stage and it promises to be an intriguing match. Will it be Tiki-Taka or Cattenacio, the night of June 6 will provide the answer.