Juventus and Barcelona are just weeks away from the big game.
They say that offense wins games, but defense wins Championships. That maxim will be put to the test as both sides possess capable to outstanding offenses and marvelous defenses.
Which side is better at keeping the ball out of the net? The Italian Champions or Spain’s top club?
The expected back four for Barcelona includes Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Dani Alves. Jeremy Mathieu could get a shot to provide the team with more stability at the back, but that would require either Alves or Mascherano to sit.
That is highly unlikely.
Barcelona’s defense this year has been quite dependable and mobile. Alves and Alba are two of the most dangerous wingbacks in the world when it comes to attacking as they have great speed (especially Alba) coupled with intelligent offensive instincts.
However, their “dangerous” is a double-edged sword. Both players tend to get caught up the pitch on the attack, often leaving Barcelona with a 2-5-3 in attack. Opposing offenses are thus allowed ample space on the counter to carve out Blaugrana.
The team has improved at providing better cover this season, as evidenced by the tremendous defense record in La Liga and the UCL thus far. However, as Bayern Munich showed, a few elite plays can find the holes in Barcelona’s often porous defense and really make the team pay.
Pique is having a bounce back year after a number of poor campaigns, but he is still a slow player that can be outraced by the best of them. Look for Carlo Tevez to take him to task. Pique does however provide a great deal offensive, scoring five goals this year and providing the team a threat on setpieces.
Mascherano is strong at the back, but he is far from his best as a center back.
Judging from his ideas against Real Madrid, Massimilliano Allegri is likely to utilize a 4-3-1-2, meaning that his defense will feature Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra.
With Andrea Barzagli injured, this back four becomes an even greater certainty.
This back four provides the team with tremendous versatility on both sides of the ball. Bonnucci and Chiellini are stalwarts in the back, providing strong coverage in the air. Lichtsteiner and Evra meanwhile are strong at the back, but also effective at moving the ball up the pitch and creating offense.
This is something that Barcelona does not always have, especially with its central midfield trio playing centrally. Throw in Alba and Alves’ propensity for moving forward and you have a lot of space for Lichtsteiner and Evra to occupy on the flanks in attack.
By the numbers
The expected back four of Juventus have combined for seven goals and eight assists with Lichtsteiner being the most effective of the bunch with three goals and five assists.
For Barcelona the expected back four have a combined six goals and 10 assists with Gerard Pique providing five goals and one assist.
Barcelona has conceded fewer shots per game than Juventus in the Champions League (9.6-11.3), but they have also averaged had more interceptions per game.
It is as even as it gets with both defenses operating in similar manners. Juventus’ defense does offer more dependability on the wingbacks so that might give the team the slightest of edges. But not by much.