Giorgio Chiellini's leadership will be missed in UCL final absence
Giorgio Chiellini has not had the best of moments in the Champions League for Juventus this season.
He slipped to allow Borussia Dortmund the away goal in the club's opening leg of its round of 16 matchup. He followed that by playing an abysmal game in Monaco in the opening leg of the quarterfinals and was also clumsy in the semifinals' second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu when he fouled James Rodriguez and conceded a penalty.
Yet, despite his mistakes, he is a born leader, a fighter and a superb defender who epitomises the Juve do-or-die approach to football.
Confirmed to be suffering from a calf injury, Chiellini will miss the Champions League final, to sadden Juventus and their many fans. This is a player who will play with a bloodied head and a bandage wrapped around it, who jumps for every ball and is a threat from set pieces. When Chiellini feels confident, he strides ahead and aides the attack. This is why he is irreplaceable, as he raises the level of play at the back and allows fellow centre-back Leonardo Bonucci to feel secure and maintain composure.
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In addition to his on-pitch qualities as a player, he also knows how to rattle and intimidate opponents. His absence will have come as good news for a certain Luis Suarez of Barcelona, who knows what it is like to be frustrated by the Italian stalwart. The defender has proved effective in disrupting the Uruguayan in the World Cup, though it resulted in Suarez biting Chiellini, but it shows that he knows how to contain the opponent by any means necessary. Yet perhaps the absence of such a tenacious Bianconero may be viewed as a blessing in disguise.
A worry that certain fans had before this final is whether Juventus will manage to keep 11 players on the pitch. Arturo Vidal can be reckless, Stephan Lichtsteiner too aggressive and Chiellini overly determined. However, it's the defender fans were worried about the most as his desire can at times lead him down the path of making poor decisions, committing the type of mistakes that opponents can take advantage of.
Now that he is ruled out, Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri is likely to replace him with Andrea Barzagli in a 4-3-1-2 formation, a defender of immense composure and glorious experience. Neither a hothead nor an overly feisty player, he is experienced and invaluable. The only problem is that he has only just recovered from injury and may not be up to the task of playing a full 90 minutes.
Of course, starting Barzagli would mean Juventus would struggle to pull off the switch to 3-5-2 in the latter stages of the game with as much solidity as usual. Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini are well versed in the art of playing together for both their club and the Italian national team, and allowing them to all play at the back has proved to be Allegri's secret weapon in Europe at times.
In order to replicate the same versatility, Juventus could rely on Angelo Ogbonna in the latter stages, or the ex-Torino defender could even start alongside Bonucci in the heart of defence if the coach is not quite as confident of Barzagli's form.
Under Allegri's tutelage, Ogbonna has developed well this season, pulling off stylish displays at the back. Not only is he capable of the heroics, such as his last-minute tackles in some matches, but he has played with greater confidence and more determination this season, showing off his ability to read the game with excellent positioning.
Yet he likely doesn't have the experience and aggressiveness that have come to characterise Juve's game. Still relatively young at 27, Ogbonna is still at times shy, and with a squad made up of warriors, they need leadership to win the Champions League and are missing one due to Chiellini's injury. The club has proved capable of beating great European opponents this season, despite the absence of its very best players at times, like Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba. Can the club manage yet another victory without its ideal starting XI?
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.