Both Juventus and Barcelona will be playing in their eighth Champions League final when they go on the pitch on June 6 at Berlin. It’ll be an attempt at a fifth title for Barca. The Bianconeri have won just twice in their seven visits, sharing the record of five losses in the competition’s final.
The interesting thing about Barcelona, a club with 22 league titles, 26 Spanish Cups, four European Cups/Champions League titles and 13 more European and international titles is how much things changed over the last 25 years. Since Johan Cruyff started running things, beginning with winning four championships in a row (1991-1994), the dominance has shifted in Spain. Real Madrid were always the number one team. Barcelona a distant second. But since 1991, Barcelona have won 12 league titles. Real Madrid? “Only” seven.
And there’s Barcelona rise in the Champions League. Their 1992 title was their first, but then came the title under Frank Rijkaard, the peak of the Ronaldinho era, in 2006. Two more, in 2009 and 2011, were the apex point of the Pep Guardiola reign, with Lionel Messi scoring in both finals. Barcelona still trail Real Madrid in the number of titles by quite a wide margin, but the perception of the club has changed over the last 25 years and especially since Messi has taken center stage.
This season didn’t go smoothly, not at first. Luis Suarez was suspended until October 25. Barcelona did win seven of their first eight league matches, but then lost two in a row, including in the El Clasico to Real Madrid, followed by a home defeat against Celta. It took Suarez time to get comfortable in the front three. But once he, Messi and Neymar adjusted, it was hard to stop them.
Since November 8, Barcelona have won 22 of 26 league matches, losing just twice. They beat Real Madrid in the Clasico repeat, and in their last eight matches (winning seven) they’ve conceded just two goals, both coming in one match, a 2-2 draw against Sevilla. In the Copa Del Rey they’ve won all eight matches, and in the Champions League, they’ve lost twice: Once in the group stage to PSG, followed by nine consecutive win. Their loss against Bayern Munich didn’t mean anything. They still made the final.
During a certain point in the 1990’s, Juventus were the most popular team in the world. After the drought of 1986 to 1994 ended, they were back on top of Italian football, just like they were for most of the Serie A history. They may have been a step behind in the European Cup/Champions League behind AC Milan and even Inter, who always had more success on foreign soil than Juventus, but at home, it was always the Bianconeri on top.
Juventus won the championship seven times from 1995 until 2006. But then came the Calciopoli, and regardless of whether you think if Juventus were wronged in the punishment while others managed to get away with lesser or without any punishment whatsoever, two of those league titles were erased, and Juventus went down to Serie B.
It took them time to find their way back to the number one spot in the Serie A. Combined with the league’s decline but some fantastic job of building a very good team without huge international stars, Juventus have taken control of the Serie A again, winning four consecutive titles, as the changing of managers this summer didn’t make a difference or a dent. There’s a way, a style, consistency, continuity and as their qualification to their first UCL final since 2003 suggests, improvement.