5 Barcelona players to watch in Champions League final
Jun. 03, 2015
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The "best player in history" for his coach, an "extraterrestrial" for his rivals, Lionel Messi is the undisputed leading man of the Champions League final in Berlin on Saturday.
Facing Juventus, the Barcelona forward can become the first player to score in three Champions League finals as he tries to clinch Barcelona its second ever treble of titles in one season.
After a trophy-less 2013-14 season that included Argentina's defeat in the World Cup final, Messi is playing better than ever, scoring seemingly at will, while also acting as Barcelona's best playmaker after moving back to the right side of its attack.
If his highlight reel of one-of-a-kind goals doesn't suffice, then here are the raw numbers for Messi with Barcelona: 23 titles, 77 Champions League goals, 58 goals this season, 20 goals in 23 career finals, four-time world player of the year, and a club record 412 goals in 481 appearances.
"Our dream is to win it all," Messi said this week.
Here are four more players key to Barcelona's quest for a fifth European Cup:
Barcelona fans will have their fingers crossed that Luis Suarez will be on his best behavior in the final.
Just like last season, Suarez will end this campaign crossing paths with Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini.
When they met at the World Cup, Suarez bit the Italian defender on the shoulder, earning the Uruguay striker a four-month ban from competition and another black mark on his resume.
Chiellini said this week he had "no problem" with Suarez, and that he would shake his hand, even hug his aggressor.
Suarez has yet to speak about the rematch with Chiellini.
Barcelona teammate Javier Mascherano said Suarez was focused only on winning the final.
"It's a special match, but because it's a final of the Champions League," Mascherano said. "That (incident) for Luis is water under the bridge. It is not necessary to say anything to him."
Suarez has 24 goals despite starting the season late while completing his suspension. Add Neymar's 38 goals and Messi's haul, and the three have combined for a staggering 120 strikes this season.
Sergio Busquets gives Barcelona its center of gravity, linking its attack and defense.
From his hunting ground in the heart of the midfield, the holding midfielder excels at recovering the ball to start Barcelona's attack, just when opponents finally thought it was safe to venture forward.
He also acts as the main passing outlet for his teammates to ping the ball back and forth before an incisive pass springs Messi, Neymar or Suarez into the area.
Busquets and fellow midfielders Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic will likely go up against Juventus' Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, and Paul Pogba.
"We hope to win the battle in midfield," Busquets said. "Juventus have some important players such as Vidal, who is a very complete player. We will try to be better than him."
With Dani Alves and Jordi Alba focusing on attacking from the wings, Barcelona's defense is left to center backs Gerard Pique and Mascherano.
Solid even when he is the only man standing between an attacker and the goalkeeper, Pique is also one of his team's most effective scorers.
He has netted seven goals, and is the team's best weapon in set-pieces, a facet of its attack that coach Luis Enrique has improved this season.
MARC-ANDRE TER STEGEN
While all the attention will be on Barcelona's illustrious strikers, its chances will also rest on 23-year-old goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
In his first season at Barcelona, the young German has played in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, leaving Claudio Bravo to help reclaim the Spanish league crown.
Ter Stegen has shown aplomb beyond his years, helping Barcelona win the Copa del Rey last weekend, and he will oppose Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon who, at age 37, has 95 Champions League appearances behind him.
"The Spanish cup was very important for me to have a rhythm," Ter Stegen said. "This (final) is a great opportunity for me personally. We have to be proud of the whole season, and now finish it off in the best possible way."