Champions League: Chiellini injury gives Barcelona the edge
Juventus suffer the same fate as Barca's other rivals as they lose a key player to injury
Barcelona go into Saturday's Champions League final against Juventus as clear favourites, with the all conquering front line of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez expected to overwhelm Juventus, who have lost key defender Giergio Chiellini to injury.
Both Barcelona and Juventus are chasing a historic treble, after both teams won a domestic league and cup double, but it is the Spanish club that appears to have the better chance. In a final that was being billed as a battle between an unstoppable force in Barcelona's strikers an immovable object, the Juventus defence, the injury to Chiellini could be crucial.
And it is not the first time Barca have benefited from an opponent's misfortune this season.
"If Barcelona lift the Champions League on Saturday and clinch a historic treble, they will rightly be remembered as one of Europe's greatest teams in recent years," writes Tony Mahoney on Goal.com. "However, for all their brilliance, Barcelona have also been aided in 2015 by a spate of injuries affecting their closest rivals."
Real Madrid's push for La Liga was scuppered by injuries to key players including Sergio Ramos and James Rodriguez at crucial times. They lost 4-0 to Atletico Madrid at the business end of the season with three key defenders missing.
In the Champions League, Paris Saint Germain were without the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the first leg of the quarter final, while the out-of-his-depth David Luiz was forced to play in both legs because of an injury to Thiago Silva. In the semi-final, Mahoney points out that Bayern Munich were shorn of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery amongst others.
The absence of Chiellini means that the "hapless Angelo Ogbonna" may be tasked with marshalling Messi, Neymar and Suarez.
The defender's calf injury is a "considerable blow to [Juventus manager] Massimiliano Allegri as he attempts to conjure a method of shutting down... the most prolific strike force in Europe this season", says The Times. None of his understudies "can match the nous, experience and sheer bloody-mindedness of Chiellini".
The paper notes that it will also take the pressure off Suarez, who will not be forced to confront the man he bit during the World Cup in Brazil last summer.
Champions League final: Chiellini denies Suarez grudge
Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini will come face to face with Luis Suarez, the man who tried to bite a chunk out of his shoulder during the World Cup, for the first time since last summer – but insists he has "no problem" with the Barcelona stiker ahead of the Champions League final.
Suarez was banned for four months for sinking his teeth into the Italian defender in Brazil, but Chiellini says he does not harbour a grudge against the Uruguayan.
"Of course I will shake hands," said Chiellini. "I'll hug him happily, too, there's no problem at all. Those who know me even a bit know that's how I truly feel. I have no problem with him and I think it's the same for him. I have to think about him as a player, how he moves, his great skill but nothing more."
Barcelona are the favourites to win the Champions League final in Berlin on Saturday night, but it could be a stressful night for Suarez, who must face more than one demon from his past. The Times notes: "Patrice Evra, the player Suarez racially abused during a meeting between Liverpool and Manchester United in 2011, will also be present".
Evra, like Chiellini, claims he has no beef with Suarez but, when asked about their meeting, commented: "I will make sure he feels me on the pitch."
Suarez vs Evra and Chiellini as Juventus face Barcelona
Juventus may have deprived the football world of the dream Champions League final between Real Madrid and Barcelona – the Ultimo Clasico – but that does not mean that the Old Lady of Turin's date with the Catalan giants will not be without intrigue, primarily thanks to the presence of Luis Suarez in the Barca ranks.
Barcelona's Uruguayan badboy may even have secretly been supporting Real Madrid against Juventus in the hope that he could avoid reunions with two Juve defenders, who have been his nemeses at two of his lowest points.
When the final kicks off on 6 June, Suarez is likely to be up against former Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, whose allegations of racism against Uruguayan caused an ongoing feud while he was at Liverpool, and Georgio Chiellini, the Italian defender bitten by Suarez during last summer's World Cup.
Here's how Suarez's beefs panned out:
Suarez was accused of racially abusing Evra during Liverpool's game with Manchester United in October 2011. He denied the allegation but was eventually banned for eight games by the FA. The incident was also deeply embarrassing for Liverpool and then manager Kenny Dalglish, who refused to accept their player's guilt and kitted the team out in pro-Suarez T-shirts in the aftermath of the verdict.
Suarez did eventually issue an apology of sorts, but things didn't end there, and when the two clubs met again in February 2012, shortly after Suarez had served his ban, the Uruguayan refused to shake hands with the French defender, sparking another huge furore.
The pair did eventually shake hands when Liverpool met Man United in 2014 but they are not close, and Evra has already upped the ante before the final. The Frenchman "confirmed he will shake Luis Suarez's hand prior to the Champions League final, but has warned the Barcelona striker he is going to leave a lasting impression during the match," says Bleacher Report.
"I am proud to be what I am, I am proud about my colour and I will shake his hand, it is no problem, but I will make sure he feels my presence on the pitch," he warned.
Last summer's World Cup will be remembered for many things, among them Suarez's bite on Italian defender Chiellini. The extraordinary incident came during a group game in Brazil when the Uruguayan lost his rag in the Italian box and sank his teeth into Chiellini's shoulder. It was not the first time Suarez had let his teeth do the talking, a year earlier he had been banned for biting Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea.
Suarez's most recent moment of madness came on the biggest stage of all, and while the referee missed the incident, the TV cameras and millions of fans did not. There was uproar after the match and Suarez was eventually hit with a four-month ban. Chewy Luis, as he was nicknamed, became an online phenomenon, but was hailed a hero in his homeland – international politicians were asked about the incident and sponsors rushed to distance themselves from the player.
As the dust began to settle, Suarez was able to persuade Liverpool to sell him to Barcelona for £75m. The Spanish side then launched a legal attempt to have his ban overturned but failed, meaning that he only made his debut for Barcelona in October.
In the days after the attack Chiellini accepted an apology from Suarez, although he could be forgiven for deciding to wear shoulder pads next month.