Martin Keown for the Daily Mail

Former Arsenal and England defender and Sportsmail columnist MARTIN KEOWN answers YOUR questions on the biggest game in football this week – the Champions League final.

Lionel Messi will be the star attraction as usual and his presence alongside Luis Suarez and Neymar up front means Barcelona are heavy favourites. 

But Juventus beat Real Madrid to reach the final and can boast the likes of Carlos Tevez, Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo in their ranks.

The game also marks Pirlo’s final game for Juve and the end of an era as Xavi plays for Barcelona for the final time. 

  • Martin Keown

    Host commentator

As much as we all love Andrea Pirlo and his class on and off the pitch, I think Xavi is a better player, so I’d have to go for him. If you look at his success rate, he has won absolutely everything in the game for club and country. He wasn’t just the heartbeat of that incredible Barcelona team, he was the main man for Spain when they were the best in the world and sweeping all before them.

He could stroll across the midfield wherever he wanted, was the one always looking to pick up the ball, going back to get it from the defence and orchestrating everything. He was such a clever player and has respect from the whole football world.

As for Pirlo, he seems timeless. He just keeps going and going and has enjoyed another wonderful season with Juventus. His style is effortless and he is such a magnificent passer of the ball.

It was interesting last summer that when England did not take the more experienced Ashley Cole lots of senior Italian players were surprised by the decision. Pirlo is 36 but the Italians seem to keep their veterans going so well. So many Italian legends kept playing at the highest level late into their 30s and even their 40s: Maldini, Costacurta, Totti, Nesta, Cannavaro. That has to be more than just a coincidence. There is huge respect for them in Italy and the clubs seem to be doing their utmost to keep them fit and ready to play. That’s why Pirlo will probably start on Saturday while Xavi might have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Xavi speaks during his farewell event at the Nou Camp on Wednesday

One that sticks in the mind is Gabriel Batistuta. Arsenal were playing their Champions League games at Wembley and we faced Fiorentina – he was a real handful. We played them in the group stages and drew 0-0 away from home and then he scored the winner in a 1-0 win at Wembley.

He was a top striker in a period where Italian teams seemed to have a lot of firepower up front, but he was a physical test, too. I remember he took me out off the ball a couple of times and it became a bit of a running battle over the two games. But at the end we shook hands and got on with it. There was a good deal of respect there.

Gabriel Batistuta celebrates the winning goal against Arsenal in 1999 (Martin Keown can be seen in right background)

It’s a mystery as to why he didn’t make it at Manchester United. There was talk of contract rows and money demands but, whatever the case, sometimes players just take that bit longer to develop. Pogba has become an exceptional midfielder, a real rangy player who loves to break from deep.

I do think he’s a player that we’ll see in the Premier League. Whether that’s this summer or not, I don’t know but I feel he could become a bit of a Yaya Toure. He is a player that wants to blast forward and make things happen. He can score goals, so you don’t want to tie down a player like that in a deep midfield role.

It was a bit of a gamble by Juve to play him in that semi-final against Real Madrid but the way he coped after being out that long shows you his pedigree.

Paul Pogba (centre) during his days among Manchester United’s academy team

For me, Vidal is a special player. I’ve been looking through my notes from the World Cup last year and most of them seem to be raving about Chile. They were the team that impressed me most of all and he, along with Alexis Sanchez, was one of the stars.

Their energy and work-rate was incredible and Vidal is one of the best all-round footballers I’ve seen. He can be a wall of defence one minute and then go flying forward the next, so he will be a real danger on Saturday.

I’ve also been impressed with Alvaro Morata, who is another good all-rounder up front. He caused Real Madrid problems in the semi-final and his speed tested Raphael Varane, who is no slouch. Then you have Carlos Tevez who is such a clever player. He works so hard for his team and is always trying to help relieve the pressure.

It’s amazing to think he will be up against Javier Mascherano on Saturday, nearly nine years after the pair first arrived at West Ham. It’s a shame he left Man City so soon because he could have formed a sensational partnership with Sergio Aguero.

Arturo Vidal in training at Juventus Arena on Monday

The core of the team is almost the same as the one that Guardiola built. Yes, Luis Enrique has done a fantastic job this season. But being Barcelona manager is a fantastic job to have. He has done well to get the best out of that incredible front three but it still feel like the core of this team is one that belongs to Guardiola – Mascherano, Pique, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi.

Still, Enrique deserves our respect for what he has done this season and talk of him leaving this summer, even if they win on Saturday, feels wrong. But if he can sustain this kind of success over many years then this will become his team.

Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta gives a press conference ahead of the final

To be honest I don’t think the bite will even be on their minds. What Suarez did was wrong, but Chiellini is a pest and he tests players’ resolve.

Sometimes centre forwards will often start a game in a very physical way to intimidate their opponents and then go over very easily when they get challenged to buy a cheap free-kick. There’s nothing more frustrating as a defender than a big strong striker falling over with the slightest touch.

But Chiellini goes the opposite way. He employs all the defensive dark arts and invites fouls from the forwards. That’s not to excuse Saurez. What he did was a joke. But it was borne out of frustration from Chiellini’s antics.

Of course he also faces Patrice Evra on Saturday but I doubt Chiellini and Evra will have discussed those incidents much. They will just be planning for Suarez the player. But now Suarez has to try and beat his opponents through fair means rather than foul. He needs to do the damage by running off Chiellini’s shoulder rather than biting it.

Luis Suarez holds his teeth after biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during a World Cup group match last summer

I remember watching the 2007 final between Liverpool and AC Milan and, after the incredible drama of Istanbul two years earlier, it wasn’t the best game. I remember Liverpool playing quite well but still coming out second best to a Milan team desperate for revenge.

As for favourite finals, they are often the ones you remember watching as a kid. Seeing Nottingham Forest win back to back titles, which is still one of the most incredible achievements in English football, will always stay with me. When you see Forest’s trophy cabinet these days you have to do a double take because of the amount of silverware they won in that period. It’s almost too low-key for such an amazing achievement.

AC Milan’s Kaka (left) and Massimo Oddo hold the trophy after beating Liverpool

Nottingham Forest’s John Robertson, Ian Bowyer and Kenny Burns celebrate after beating Malmo in Munich in 1979

This week it’s a Champions League special…




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