LIONEL MESSI’S suffered two setbacks this season – first he lost the Ballon d’Or to Cristiano Ronaldo and secondly he was dropped by Barcelona coach Luis Enrique over a difference of opinion.
Enrique soon realised he’d be better being on Messi’s side and quickly restored the Argentine superstar to the line-up and you can be pretty sure who’ll regain the tage of best player in the world at the end of the year.
Messi never looks upset but he’s reacted to the two happenings by playing some of the best football of his career this year – and that’s saying something.
After losing 1-0 at Real Sociedad in the game Messi found himself benched for Barcelona wrapped up a domestic double and reached the Champions League Final by notching 30 wins in 34 games.
Juventus can’t be underestimated in Berlin because the Italians have performed brilliantly to reach this stage I’m confidently backing the Spaniards.
Messi’s the main reason – Luis Suarez and Neymar are two others. There’s also Andres Iniesta who continues to dazzle in midfield and it’s Xavi’s finale and what better way to go out than lift the world’s biggest club prize.
Barca are 8-13 with firms including William Hill and Ladbrokes to win in 90 minutes and 4-11 at BetVictor to lift the trophy with Juventus 5-1 (bet365) and 13-5 (boylesports) respectively.
The Italians defeated Real Madrid in the semis but while Ronaldo scored in both legs he was strangely subdued and had little back-up with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema misfiring.
Barca are lucky – if Messi doesn’t score he sets them up for Suarez and Neymar and between them the three South Americans have netted 122 goals this season.
Messi is of course favourite to score first at 7-2 with Paddy Power and William Hill. He’s netted 43 times this season and in La Liga alone was credited with 18 assists so could just as easily lay one on a plate for Suarez (5-1, bet365) or Neymar (5-1, Ladbrokes).
Having tipped the Argentine to break the deadlock in last week’s Spanish Cup Final – and what a stunner it was – I’m sticking with him. And if anyone thinks it really will be his stage consider 5-1 from William Hill to net two or more.
To net at any time he is 21-20 with Stan James with 24-goal Suarez 7-4 at Skybet and 38-goal Neymar 9-5 with 888sport. Could they all hit the target? It’s possible.
While Barca boast three South American superstars Juve have one of their own. Carlos Tevez has been their star turn with 29 goals this season and is 8-1 at Ladbrokes to score first and 3-1 with the same firm to net.
Former Real Madrid man Alvaro Morata was the hero of the semi-finals with goals in both legs and he’d love to dump Barca. He is 4-1 with Betway to hit the target.
Defence, however, has been the key to Juve’s success and they conceded just 21 goals in 38 Serie A outings.
Will their backline – now without the crocked Giorgio Chiellini – be good enough to shut out Barca? I don’t think so.
Juventus have the joint worst European Cup/Champions League Final record of any team with five defeats in seven and this is their first appearance since losing to AC Milan on penalties in 2002-03.
On the other hand Barca have reached the Final three times in nine seasons and won them all in 90 minutes.
I’m on them to make it four in 10 and with three South America wizards facing one could it be 3-1. That scoreline has a nice ring to it and pays 14-1 at Betfred and Ladbrokes.
Messi is 3-1 favourite at William Hill to be man of the match and one person who could stop him is Iniesta who is 12-1.
Juve will need a top display from keeper Gianluca Buffon to have any chance and either keeper to land this award is 14-1 with McBookie.
Messi to score first
(7-2, Paddy Power, William Hill)
Messi to score
(21-20, Stan James)
Messi to score/Barca to win
(2-1, William Hill)
Barca 3, Juve 1
(14-1, Betfred, Ladbrokes)