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Each of the last 10 UEFA Champions League finals have been won by a team representing a national association that, at some point, had four sides competing in the tournament. That is the stark statistical trend that Juventus must end if it is to beat Barcelona and claim its third continental crown.
It has been a while since Italy and its top division, Serie A, supplied four UEFA Champions League participants because UEFA’s statisticians have crunched the numbers and ranked the football-crazy home of Juventus fourth behind Spain, England and Germany. Italy’s UEFA country coefficient of 64.147 is nearer to that of fifth-placed Portugal (59.168) than that of third-placed Germany (79.614). Juventus is Italy’s champion team – the Old Lady won Italian Serie A by 17 points and that was despite taking its foot off the gas once the championship was locked up – but is being the best side in UEFA’s fourth strongest domestic league sufficient to worry the Spanish Primera Division’s top team?
Juventus fans will point to their side’s 3-2 UEFA Champions League semi-final aggregate success over Spanish Primera Division runner-up Real Madrid but one feels that Juve were lucky to get past the Meringues, particularly in light of the following statistic: Juve had 14 fewer goal attempts than Real. If Juventus has considerably fewer goal attempts than Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final then one cannot see anything other than a Barca win given the attack that Luis Enrique has the pleasure of fielding in big games.
Barcelona is a more rounded team under Enrique than it was under Pep Guardiola, with Barca more inclined to get the ball forward quickly and play fewer pretty passes in areas that do not trouble opponents. Barcelona’s front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez is one of the most lethal attacks ever to grace club football and Enrique’s tactics are based around getting the ball into their feet frequently. One thinks that Barcelona’s offence will be too hot for the defence of Juventus to handle and, therefore, one’s UEFA Champions League final pick is Barca at odds of 1.62 with several bookmakers, including Bet365 and Coral. Barcelona are odds on to win for good reasons.
With regards to UEFA Champions League final exotics, the markets that caught one’s eye were those pertaining to players receiving cards and, in particular, the market relating to Juventus defender Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Lichtsteiner is the Juventus right back and, consequently, it will be his primary task to shut down Barcelona left forward Neymar. Lichtsteiner was something of a card magnet during the Italian Serie A competition, collecting eight yellow card and one red card to put him at the top of his side’s divisional disciplinary chart. Lichtsteiner accrued three yellow cards as Juventus made it way to the UEFA Champions League final, placing him near the top of Juve’s list of bad boys in the international tournament as well.
The most fouled player in the UEFA Champions League was not Messi but Neymar, who suffered 36 fouls in 936 minutes of play, according to UEFA’s number crunchers – Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was fouled 33 times in 654 minutes so one could argue that he was the UEFA Champions League’s most fouled player per minute but let us not get bogged down in the detail. One likes the combination of Neymar being the direct opponent of Lichtsteiner and it does not hurt that the Barcelona forward has something of a short fuse. One is expecting fireworks between Neymar and Lichtsteiner, fireworks that will test the patience of UEFA Champions League final referee Cuneyt Cakir, a whistleblower who does like to show cards. Cakir has brandished five red cards in his last nine domestic and international appointments so the Turkish official may not hesitate to stamp his authority on the UEFA Champions League final. Cakir controlled the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup final in which he sent off Chelsea defender Gary Cahill.
SkyBet is offering odds of 2/1 3.00 +200 2.00 2.00 -0.50 that Lichtsteiner receives a card of any colour from Cakir so snap up that offer and cheer every time that Neymar runs at his direct opponent.
Barcelona to beat Juventus
6th June 19:45 GMT
Odds: 2/1 3.00 +200 2.00 2.00 -0.50
Where to Bet: SkyBet