Luis Enrique and FC Barcelona are just 90 minutes away from a potential treble and, as expected, the anticipation is starting to build. The media days are long over, the press conferences have ended and the clubs have travelled to Berlin and checked into their respective hotels. Hell, last night they both stepped out onto the pitch at the Olympiastadion, to get a feel for the playing surface and to imagine what the ground might be like when it's full of 80,000+ supporters.
We're so close to glory, we can almost taste it. In some respects, Barcelona have never even entertained the idea that losing tonight is a possibility; as players like Javier Mascherano have said, we are favourites. And it's clear to see why; tonight could prove to be our 50th victory in 60 matches this season; that's a record that few other teams across history can even boast.
With Lionel Messi in our side, we always have an upperhand. However, now that he has been partnered with Neymar and Luis Suarez...well, we've all seen the end results. Out-and-out devastation has greeted opposing teams who have been brave or stupid enough to try and take them on. Bayern Munich? Atletico Madrid? Paris Saint-Germain? It doesn't matter the calibre of opposition, MSN are indiscriminate in who they eviscerate. Juventus might be next.
But they might not; Gianluigi Buffon might just be one of the greatest goalkeepers of all-time, and on his night, he can single-handedly save Juventus from defeat. His last and only previous UEFA Champions League final didn't end well; he ended up blaming himself for their penalty shoot-out defeat to AC Milan and went on to struggle through bouts of depression as a consequence. The road back to the UCL final has been long and winding, including a detour back to Serie B, but here he is, back again, ready to make amends.
Key Player - Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Well duh, right? The greatest player on the planet, and probably of all-time, Lionel Messi is going to have a huge say in where the trophy ends up tonight. If he's at his best, you better believe that it will be coming back to Catalunya with us, that's pretty much all that needs to be said.
In the interest of providing a little more insight though, Messi's transition back to the right has revolutionised the team this season and while it has left us a little wanting, defensively speaking, the addition of Ivan Rakitic has proven to be the perfect complement. Now, Messi is liberated to essentially do as he pleases, which is generally to play very well; he's obviously scoring a bucket load of goals, but it is also his selflessness and vision that makes the difference.
I mean, you can put three or four players on Messi to stop him scoring, but increasingly he is accepting that and simply using it to the team's advantage, finding the likes of Luis Suarez and Neymar when they are in space -- and therein will probably lie the key to the match: we all know that Messi is going to play well, but can Neymar and Suarez seize the opportunities that Messi's genius creates?
Key Matchup: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona) vs Carlos Tevez (Juventus)
Looking back, probably very few remember that Mascherano and Tevez first set foot in Europe as a duo, both signing for West Ham United, rather bizarrely too in the face of interest from more prominent European outfits. Whatever the case, Mascherano wasn't particularly trusted by management at the club and was marginalised, while Tevez was the poster boy, dragging West Ham out of the mire and keeping them in the Premier League.
That was a long time ago, but still, it's been interesting to see how the roles have reversed. Typically, after that point Tevez was the unsettling influence, eventually allowed to leave both Manchester clubs for various reasons, before ultimately finding a long-term home iN Italy with Juevtnus. Success has followed him wherever he has gone, but in comparison to Mascherano, he must be wondering what might have been.
That's because Mascherano left West Ham, thrived at Liverpool and eventually used that success as a springboard for a move to FC Barcelona, where he has been an integral member of one of the greatest club sides in history. A true team player, Mascherano went on to captain Argentina -- while Tevez was forced out of the international picture due to rows with management and a reported rift with Lionel Messi.
And now, tonight, the two players will square off once again; Tevez looking to be the driving force behind his side's unlikely quest for the title, while Mascherano looks to crush his compatriot's dreams by marshaling the Blaugrana backline. Usually, Mascherano would depend upon his strength, speed and tenacity to win the ball back and frustrate opposing strikers, but in Tevez, he faces a man who is perhaps quicker, stronger and even more determined. It's going to be a tremendous battle, and personally I would have thought that Tevez would fancy his chances by isolating himself up against Gerard Pique...but this is the battle we all want to see: Tevez vs Mascherano. Winner takes all.
Match Date/Time: Saturday, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local
Venue: Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany
TV: Fox Soccer Plus (U.S. - English), TV3, C+ Liga de Campeones / HD, Gol T (Spain), Sky Sports 1 / HD, 5 / HD, ITV1 (U.K.), TEN HD, TEN Sports Live (India)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)