Football Comment: Barca playing better now than under Pep

 
Trevor Steven
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ELEVEN months ago, when they appointed Massimiliano Allegri as their new head coach, Juventus could scarcely have imagined they would be closing in on a possible treble within a year.

For Allegri, who had been sacked by AC Milan earlier in 2014 and was tasked with replacing club legend Antonio Conte, retaining the Serie A title and mustering a decent European run would have been ample success.

But the Italians have got a solid structure augmented by very good players and there is no question that they deserve to be in tomorrow’s Champions League final against Barcelona.

They may not be the most entertaining outfit, but I love to watch Andrea Pirlo, who is – apart from Barca maestro Xavi – the best player at dictating the pace of a match that I’ve ever seen.

Him aside, they are powered by the doggedness of former Manchester City forward Carlos Tevez, Spanish striker Fernando Llorente’s craft, and the formidable midfield quality of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal.

MAN MOUNTAIN
Controlling the ball will be decisive in the final and Barcelona are so good at it, but if any team can upset them it’s probably Juve, with their brawn in the centre of the park.

A major blow to the Turin side as they prepare to face the world’s greatest strikeforce is the absence through injury of first-choice central defender – and man mountain – Giorgio Chiellini.

It means the underdogs will be relying on an inferior player who is also not playing regularly to keep out Lionel Messi and his free-scoring team-mates – and I struggle to see it succeeding.

Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez haven’t always gelled, of course. Early in the season former Liverpool striker Suarez was popping up in different positions, tending to fill in the space as Messi went were he wanted.

Now they play with greater positional discipline, Neymar staying left until he darts inside onto a pass, and manager Luis Enrique deserves a lot of credit for striking a balance.

I was not a fan of Barcelona last season under Gerardo Martino but Luis Enrique, a former player who understands the club and how it works, has proven to be a perfect fit.

RELENTLESS
I said at the time I thought it was a great appointment and he has achieved something we didn’t think was possible: playing even better than under Pep Guardiola.

Having won this competition a year ago, Real Madrid should have kicked on this season. They started better than their great rivals but Barca relentlessly chased them down – and got Carlo Ancelotti the sack.

I’d like to see Barca win and I can’t find it within myself to imagine them losing. As their convincing Copa del Rey final win over Athletic Bilbao last week showed, they are streets ahead of any other team on the planet.

Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who has played at two World Cups and two European Championships. He now works as a media commentator.