Europe's best, Barcelona finishes treble run with 3-1 win over Juventus
Barcelona capped an incredible season with a 3-1 win over Juventus in the Champions League final on Saturday, sealing a treble of trophies and ending the 2014-2015 European soccer season on an exciting high note.
Ivan Rakitic opened the scoring in the fourth minute with the fourth-fastest goal in a Champions League final, and it looked like Barcelona would ease to the title. But Gianluigi Buffon made a number of clutch saves, and Alvaro Morata, the former Real Madrid striker, found an equalizer in the 55th minute, finishing off a rebound from a Carlos Tevez saved shot.
Luis Suárez scored the eventual winner 13 minutes later, though, and Neymar, who earlier had what he thought was Barca's third goal ruled out for a handball, tallied the insurance goal with the last kick of the game.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
From start to finish, Barcelona was Europe's best
There was a time, in January, when Barcelona was thought to be a club in crisis. Sporting Director Andoni Zubizarreta left his post, along with recently-retired legend and right-hand man Carles Puyol. The Court of Arbitration for Sport decided to uphold FIFA's transfer ban on the club. Lionel Messi and manager Luis Enrique were rumored to be at odds. Then the team lost its first game of the season, 1-0 to Real Sociedad.
Those that wrote the Blaugrana's obituary then were, to say the least, getting ahead of themselves. All Barcelona has done since their supposed "crisis" is absolutely steamroll through La Liga, the Copa Del Rey, and now the Champions League, losing just twice more through the rest of the season and winning games by absurd margins on a regular basis. The fearsome front three of Messi, Suárez, and Neymar worked with devastating efficiency.
Since that loss to Sociedad, Barcelona won nine games by four goals or more. If anything, the controversy seemed to make the team stronger than ever.
Saturday's final may not have had with one of those crazy scorelines, but the Spanish side's dominance was evident from the start. If not for a couple of world-class saves from Buffon, it could have gotten really ugly, really early.
Messi didn't score, but he was integral
There were a few moments of magic from Messi on Saturday, but on the whole the Argentinian was fairly subdued for large parts of the game. His trademark mazy runs were few, far between, and mostly ineffective. When he did get the ball in a danger area, his signature shimmies and deft touches were replaced, at times, with tripping over his own shoes.
So it says something about Messi as a player that, even on a day when things weren't going his way in the final third, he still had a direct hand in both of Barcelona's first two goals.
On the first, it was Messi's excellent cross-field ball, sent in from an otherwise-innocuous area of the field, that set up Neymar and Andres Iniesta to work their magic and provide Rakitic with an easy finish for the opener.
Messi had an even more direct hand in the second goal, firing in a sizzling shot toward Buffon, hit with enough spin that the Italian keeper could only manage to parry it away. Suárez then cleaned up the rebound to give Barcelona a 2-1 lead that it wouldn't relinquish.
There are numerous great players all over the world that can "wow" you with skill. But few of them can match Messi's level of influence on plays like those. That's what makes him the best in the world…or one of them, at least.
Juventus deserves enormous credit
In the first half, it looked like Barcelona would easily run away with this game. As always, the Spanish side had the lion's share of possession (hovering around 65%), most of the scoring chances, and an early lead thanks to a typically razor-sharp exchange of passes. But Juventus held tough throughout, giving themselves every chance to win the game in the second half.
Juventus is a cosmopolitan team appropriate for the modern era of global soccer, but they still play with the spirit of their Italian homeland, which won the 2006 World Cup in the same stadium where Saturday's game with played using a similar formula: Absorb attacks for as long as possible, wait until the opponent has lost faith, then strike.
It never seemed like Juventus was too overwhelmed with Barcelona's possession game on Saturday, and the team didn't seem to panic after going down 1-0 either. Rather, they worked their way back into the game slowly but surely, waiting for a Barcelona lull to push forward and attack.
As it turned out, that lull came just after halftime. Juve came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, catching Barcelona off guard with a goal from Morata that drastically swung the momentum of the game. Juve got key contributions from all of their major players in this spell, with Buffon making saves, Morata and leading scorer Carlos Tevez tormenting the Barcelona backline with relentless energy, and sterling midfield performances from Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba.
For a while, it really seemed like Juventus could have gotten a winner (and perhaps, thanks to a tough no-call after Pogba was brought down around the edge of the box, it should have had that opportunity). However, a team as in-form as Barcelona only needs one chance to take that momentum back. Suárez's goal gave Barcelona just that, in addition the the Catalan side's third trophy of the season.