Juventus, Barcelona can provide
Champions League final to savour
They're Europe's blue bloods -- Italy's most successful team versus the organization that calls itself "more than a club" -- but Champions League finalists Juventus and Barcelona will arrive in Berlin from opposite vantage points.
Juventus were in Serie B nine years ago after the Calciopoli scandal. The likes of Gigi Buffon, Claudio Marchisio and Giorgio Chiellini were there in the second flight, and they'll be there at the Champions League final in Berlin on June 6, having lived through the fall and the rebirth. They approach this game with the humility of those who have tasted rock bottom but somehow know they belong at this level.
Barcelona, with Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi, were the defending European champions in 2006-07, the season Juve were playing against the likes of Cittadella and Crotone. This will be Barca's third trip to the Champions League final since then, after wins in 2009 and 2011, and some of their supporters will tell you that but for a cloud of volcanic ash in 2010 and a trip into the twilight zone in 2012, it would be their fifth.
Juventus will be the underdogs, and it's something of an unfamiliar position. After all, they are the establishment club in Serie A. Equally, Barcelona have long affected a countercultural air, partly for sociopolitical reasons of Catalan identity and partly because they are the yang to Real Madrid's yin.
Yet in Berlin, there is no question who will play the role of the insider and who will be trying to gate-crash the elite.
Barca will line up what is possibly the greatest attacking trio -- Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have scored 121 goals between them in all competitions this season -- since Alfredo Di Stefano, Paco Gento and Ferenc Puskas led the Real Madrid forward line.
The bulk of Luis Enrique's team is made up of guys who are used to winning, who are fully drilled in the Barca way, and who are not fazed by the rarified atmosphere at the top of the game's biggest club competition. You sense that if there is a hiccup, it will come from the newcomers: Suarez, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ivan Rakitic. However, truth be told, their integration has seemed pretty seamless.
Juventus are a mix of veterans, with two gifted youngsters cast off by their previous clubs: Alvaro Morata and Paul Pogba. They've won plenty of domestic silverware and, as individuals, have European pedigrees as well. Carlos Tevez, Patrice Evra, Andrea Pirlo, Morata and Buffon have all played in Champions League finals in the past. The difference is that they haven't done it together, as a unit. Plus, when they reached Europe's biggest game previously, they were generally surrounded by better players.
Another contrast comes from the fact that while this Barcelona team will likely be kept together and continue to excel as a unit, the same can't be said for Juve. Cast your mind forward three seasons at Barca and, apart from Dani Alves and maybe Javier Mascherano and Iniesta (though you wouldn't bet against them), these guys could all still be around the Camp Nou.
Not so for the bianconeri. Real Madrid have a buy-back option on Morata, while Pogba will be the hottest commodity in the transfer market this summer and hanging on to him won't be straightforward.
At the other end of the age scale, Tevez is 31 and has never hidden his desire to play his final years at home in Argentina. Buffon is 38, Pirlo is 35, Evra is 33 and Stephan Lichtsteiner is 31. Whatever happens, this Juve team will need to be refreshed; many of these players won't get another bite before the window of opportunity closes.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL (SATURDAY, 2:45 ET / 7:45 BST)
- Marcotti: Historic matchup | Pogba's big test
- Cox: Stopping Barca's front three | Key battles
- Hunter: Messi, Xavi and Iniesta chase history
- Jones: Pirlo keeps going | By The Numbers
- Lowe: Alves' Barca swansong | Final stats
- Horncastle: Juve's long road | Tale of the tape
- Smith: Argentine stars seek redemption
- Delaney: Messi is the difference-maker
- FC TV: Pogba key | Barca favoured | Burley
- Predictions: Who will win? | Vital Statistics
And then there are the myriad subplots associated with this final. Suarez will come face to face with the darkest days of his past in the form of Evra and Giorgio Chiellini. Iniesta squares off with Pirlo in a battle of geniuses who could charge admission simply to watch them stroke a ball.
Then there's the head-to-head of Pogba and Neymar, who were born 11 months apart and are destined to be in contention as the world's greatest once Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo exit stage left. Buffon and Pirlo return to the site where they lifted the World Cup in 2006.
Want more? Tevez face off against Messi less than a year after a World Cup final in which they could -- should? -- have led Argentina's forward line together, but which Tevez watched on TV instead because he was left out of Argentina's squad.
It's the Champions League final. The big boys are out. Savour it.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.