OLYMPIASTADION, BERLIN — Barcelona become the first European club to secure the treble for a second time after beating Juventus, 3-1, to win the Champions League on Saturday.
A remarkable trio delivered the unforgettable treble. A season built on the collective genius of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar was elevated into rare historical company by the newest member of that attacking trident, as Suarez lashed home with 20 minutes remaining after a brilliant solo run from Lionel Messi had carved Juventus apart to restore a Barcelona lead they would not relinquish.
Neymar, perhaps feeling left out, then wrapped things up deep into injury time, as substitute Pedro (a forgotten man at times this term) capped his cameo with the assist.
Juventus, denied their own treble by the loss, started the game awfully, falling behind to a sweeping team move finished off by Ivan Rakitic less than four minutes after the opening whistle, but a smattering of brilliant saves from Gianluigi Buffon kept Massimiliano Allegri's side in the game long enough for Alvaro Morata to steal a second-half equaliser against the run of play.
Stunned by the Spaniard’s intervention, Barcelona briefly stumbled as Juventus pushed forward and, for at least the five minutes after Morata's goal, looked more likely to steal the next. But Messi and Suarez eventually proved too irresistible for the Italian champions—as they have invariably been against all challengers this season—and, over the final 15 minutes, there were relatively few scares as Barcelona became European champions for the third time in the last seven seasons.
It was left to Xavi, the departing legend whose substitute appearance in Berlin made him the most capped player in Champions League history, to lift the trophy—as Luis Enrique celebrated his first season as Barca coach with a remarkable treble.
"This is our 60th match [of the season]," the coach said. "We’ve lost six games, had four draws and I think the figures show it is one of the best seasons for Barcelona.
"We need to nourish ourselves with trophies and titles. Without a doubt the best club in Europe is Barcelona."
With no real surprises in the two lineups—both Andrea Barzagli and Andres Iniesta, the pregame injury concerns for either side, were ultimately passed fit to start—fans were eager to see how the domestic champions of Italy and Spain would fare against one another.
After a slightly nervy start (Javier Mascherano making two early mistakes, the first of which yielded the game’s opening snapshot to Carlos Tevez) from Luis Enrique’s side, almost as soon as Barcelona found their equilibrium, they seemed to take the lead. Sergio Busquets spun his man in midfield in a passage of play that kicked his side into gear, launching a sweeping passing move that culminated in Iniesta cutting the ball across for Rakitic to direct a measured finish beyond Buffon.
Juventus seemed startled by the occasion and knocked further out of their rhythm by that early setback, with Arturo Vidal’s travails indicative of their struggles. The Chilean was guilty of a couple of overenthusiastic challenges even before he was booked in the 11th minute for a snap at Busquets’ ankles and continued to risk invoking the referee’s ire as his passion for the moment threatened to get the better of him. Perhaps his part in the opener, as replays suggested he was guilty of failing to track Rakitic into the box, was also weighing on his mind.
All the while as Vidal was harrying around aimlessly, it seemed a second Barcelona goal was almost inevitable, with Neymar appealing vocally for a handball off Stephan Lichtsteiner and then Jordi Alba guilty of squandering a glorious opening after being left unmarked from Rakitic’s corner.
That Barca did not eventually take the lead was only down to Buffon, however, as the veteran Italian made a breathtaking one-handed save to deny Dani Alves—more involved on the ball than any other player in the first half— from slotting a right-footed effort beyond him.
Having weathered the storm of the first 20 minutes, Juventus slowly began to find a measure of control over the match, although Andrea Pirlo’s struggles to retain possession in and around his own area at times created more self-inflicted damage.
The Italian side occasionally forayed into the opposition half, but the attacks rarely formed into anything coherent, with vociferous appeals for a penalty after Paul Pogba stumbled over the foot of Alba on the edge of the box perhaps borne more out of desperation than expectation.
As it was, it took until the 44th minute for Claudio Marchisio to deliver his side’s first shot on target of the match. Nevertheless, as the two sides went into the break, it was Barcelona who were still dictating things, with Messi’s growing influence on the match—as he dropped deep to start attacks and pick his passes—an ominous sign of what the second half might bring.
It certainly began in similar fashion to the first, with Juventus making the first notable attacking inroad after the break, but Barca soon exploited that. A corner from the Italian side was cleared and Luis Enrique’s men eventually had a five-on-three attack, with Rakitic biding his time patiently before releasing Suarez to his left. The Uruguayan’s shot was on target, but once again, Buffon got down well to claw the ball away at his near post.
Barca continued to threaten, with Suarez and Messi both missing the target with decent sights of the goal—the Argentinian’s opening coming after another blistering passing move. At this point, the Juve fans were desperately trying to rouse their embattled side; the chants of the Barca fans felt altogether more confident and euphoric.
That was to change, however, as Juventus finally strung together an attacking move of class and incision. It was Marchisio who was the true architect of an equalizer that came almost completely against the run of play, as his measured backheel to the overlapping Lichtsteiner broke his side beyond the defensive line. The Swiss then played a similarly clever ball across, so Tevez had time to turn and shoot: His drive was brilliantly saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, only for the rebound to fall perfectly for Morata to slot home.
Cue an exultant reaction from the Juventus end of the ground, and for the next five minutes, their side were fully on top. A couple of set pieces threatened Ter Stegen’s goal, while tackles that in the first half were clumsy and misplaced were suddenly perfectly timed. On the hour mark, Tevez flashed another first-time effort just wide, a close shave that had a handful of Barcelona players gesticulating wildly at one another.
They continued to flounder, with Pogba pounding the ground in frustration as another penalty shot (this time as Alves dragged him to the ground) went against him. But seconds later, Barcelona would go up the other end and score, turning the game on its head once again.
In many ways, it was similar to Juve’s equaliser; a parried shot falling perfectly for the striker following it in to finish off. Suarez was the man to be the hero, thumping home after Buffon did not completely deal with Messi’s jinking run and shot. This time, the veteran goalkeeper did not have the right answer.
Juve were incensed, believing they should have had a penalty moments earlier, but four minutes later, it was Barcelona’s players who were remonstrating with officials. Neymar thought he had clinched the victory as his header from Alba’s cross bobbled past Buffon, only for the strike to be disallowed as replays showed the ball had come off the forward’s hand before going in.
More misfortune nearly befell them—Ter Stegen’s punch from a corner hitting Mascherano and looping just over the crossbar—but, with the lead back in their possession, Barcelona drove toward the line.
All they needed was a clincher to start the party, yet that third goal remained maddeningly elusive. Messi slipped at just the wrong moment after being played in by Neymar, before Gerard Pique lashed over the crossbar after Rakitic had been the only one to spot the run. Then Xavi—on as a substitute for Iniesta—had a chance to cap off his farewell appearance, but Suarez’s mishit shot narrowly evaded the Spaniard’s outstretched foot.
The priority was not to concede another goal, of course, and in that regard, Barcelona were far more successful. Juventus pushed desperately but could not carve out the one gilt-edged chance they needed, as both Marchisio and Tevez failed to trouble Ter Stegen from range with five minutes of added time quickly running down.
In the end, their desperation resulted in the other obvious result: Barcelona clinching the game on the counter-attack, as Pedro and Neymar exchanged passes before the latter man confirmed another remarkable season would end in perfect fashion.
"From the bench I had good feelings, I thought we could win it but Barcelona got away the minute we made a mistake," Allegri concluded. "When we conceded a counter-attack, they have three excellent attackers who are great at counter-attacking and so we paid the price."
"It started perfectly for us. We dominated the first half and had opportunities to score more goals," Enrique said after the match. "Then Juventus started to press stronger and it got more difficult for us. They started to come very close in our half and put pressure on us and for about 10 minutes we had an uphill struggle.
"But I think over the course of the match we were superior, and we deserved to win."
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|Marc-Andre ter Stegen||7|
What's Next for Both Teams?
With a fourth European crown inside the last decade, it is hard to argue with Luis Enrique's assessment that Barcelona are currently the continent's powerhouse. Losing the manager in the summer—he has yet to confirm his future—would be a blow to that, but you sense it is the players who are more integral to the dynasty that the club have built.
"The time will come when decisions have to be made, but at this point we have to celebrate," the coach said. "It has been a difficult year, but I have to thank all those who trusted me."
"I hope he stays at the club next season," Andres Iniesta offered. "We have had a spectacular season in every sense of the word."
The club cannot strengthen this summer, banned from business for one more transfer window, but on Saturday's evidence, they do not need significant reinforcement—although replacing Xavi (which could be done by the youngster Rafinha) must be the immediate priority facing the staff.
For Juventus, the harsh pain of defeat is softened somewhat by the knowledge that they have made huge strides this season, re-establishing themselves as a genuine force in European football. The goal must now be to hold on to their key players—Paul Pogba most notably, but also Carlos Tevez if he is tempted by a return to Argentina—and build on this return to form in the Champions League.
"I think we can improve still," Allegri reflected. "We can consolidate and strengthen our way of playing and we can try and stay among the eight top teams in Europe on a stable basis. Our first objective is winning the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia. The Champions League is still one of our dreams; this year we came close and maybe one year we will win it."
All quotes obtained firsthand.