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 By Michael Cox

Champions League battles include Javier Mascherano vs. Carlos Tevez

Barcelona and Juventus haven't played each other for 12 years, which is partly what makes this season's Champions League final so intriguing. In a competition packed full of "repeat" ties, this is a genuinely new tactical battle to get excited about.

Nevertheless, various players on opposing sides have faced one another before, when playing for other clubs, or at international level. It means various individual duels are also fascinating -- here are three of the key battles.

Javier Mascherano vs. Carlos Tevez

These two Argentines go way back: they first encountered one another in one of world football's greatest rivalries: River Plate against Boca Juniors. Already considered potentially world-class talents by that stage, their rivalry turned to friendship through mutual respect. When Kia Joorabchian brokered the deal that took Tevez to Corinthians in Brazil 10 years ago, the forward encouraged his agent to recruit Mascherano, too. And so he did.

Then came their unexpected, bizarre joint move to West Ham United in 2006, where Tevez shone and Mascherano was often kept out of the team by Hayden Mullins and Nigel Quashie. Unsurprisingly, they ended up at more illustrious sides, and were soon battling it out in Liverpool vs. Manchester United.

Tevez is now 31, while Mascherano will turn 31 two days after this final -- and both are arguably at their peak. Tevez has been in sensational form for Juventus, forming a brilliant partnership with Alvaro Morata and providing both creativity and goal-scoring ability. He drops deep into clever positions between the lines, becoming an outright No. 10 for a side whose attacking midfielders, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba, are about energy as much as guile. His goal-scoring record is also impressive: 19 league goals last season; 20 this time around. He's also hit seven in the Champions League this term, a competition he'd previously struggled in.

Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano have a lot of history together.

Mascherano is still considered a defensive midfielder playing out of position by many, but having played at centre-back for half a decade with Barcelona he should be viewed as among the world's best in that position, too. His improvement has been hugely impressive: he now reads the game as intelligently as anyone in the world, making clever interceptions and well-timed, hard tackles if necessary too. He's not the greatest in the air because of his height, but Tevez won't trouble him in that respect.

This should be a tremendous head-to-head battle, because both players are highly intelligent with their positioning, but typically Argentine and up for a battle too. Tevez will attempt to draw Mascherano up the pitch, and the Barcelona defender must make good decisions about how far to track, and when to tackle.

Sergio Busquets vs. Arturo Vidal

Two of the world's most complete midfielders are likely to be in direct combat -- as they were at last summer's World Cup. There, Chile's 2-0 victory over Spain was largely due to Chile's intense pressure, which was led admirably by a not-fully-fit Vidal shutting down Busquets repeatedly.

A repeat might be unlikely, because Juventus won't press high up the pitch. Instead, they'll defend deeper with the midfield protecting the defence solidly, and Max Allegri has often ordered Juve to flatten their diamond without the ball, with Vidal dropping in alongside Andrea Pirlo to create a more traditional midfield quartet.

Busquets might find his direct opponents when he receives possession are actually Tevez and Morata, dropping back to keep Juventus compact in the manner Atletico Madrid usually play against Barcelona.

Arturo Vidal, right, shut down the Spain midfield at last year's World Cup.

The interesting element of this battle, however, will be what happens when Juventus win possession. Their usual approach in this Champions League run has been to bypass the midfield quickly, knocking longer passes in to Tevez and Morata. However, they're also excellent at getting the midfielders forward in support, and Vidal is capable of brilliant, lung-busting runs to sprint into the final third and provide an extra goal threat.

Because Juventus will play two upfront against Barcelona's two centre-backs, Busquets' job will be to track Vidal if he pushes forward to become an extra attacker. Few players in world football are as intelligent in a positional sense as Busquets, but the one thing he lacks is Vidal's sheer speed. Busquets will be in control for 95 percent of the game, but a couple of untracked bursts from the Chilean could prove crucial.

Lionel Messi vs. Patrice Evra

Now that Giorgio Chiellini's injury has derived us of his reunion with Luis Suarez, it's worth looking at Patrice Evra, who approaches this game with prior experience of having played Barcelona in a Champions League final, in 2009 and 2011. Unfortunately for him, he lost both with Manchester United. Even more unfortunately for him, this time he's up against Lionel Messi.

He managed to avoid Messi in the previous finals because the Argentine was playing in his central false nine role. Having previously faced a quicker forward who wants to sprint in behind (Samuel Eto'o and Pedro Rodriguez), Evra must now face Messi drifting inside onto his left foot.

That might suit Evra better at this stage of his career. He no longer boasts the pace of his younger years, although his defending has improved since moving to Juventus, as he has slotted in nicely alongside reliable veterans in the centre-back positions.

Indeed, Evra has always looked much better alongside top-class centre-backs who are also leaders -- such as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic -- rather than when being asked to babysit younger players.

Patrice Evra has been revitalised at Juventus but, in Lionel Messi, faces his toughest test of the season.

The key part of Evra's game will be about whether to track Messi inside, and risk leaving space on the overlap for Daniel Alves, or keeping his position and allowing others to pick up Barca's star man.

The first seems the better option because, in Paul Pogba, Juve have a left-sided midfielder capable of matching Alves' speed and stamina. Besides, Evra doesn't really want to be leaving Messi to Juve's deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo, who isn't an especially good player defensively.

Messi, meanwhile, is attempting to become the first player to score in three separate Champions League finals. The right-sided position he's taken up this season, supposedly after he and Luis Suarez simply switched temporarily midway through a game and it ended up working nicely, has produced amongst his best performances.

The roles of Suarez, Alves and, to a certain extent Ivan Rakitic, are all about getting Messi into the position in which he's most comfortable: Approximately 25 yards from goal and right-of-centre, from where he can shoot, pass or dribble.

Evra might be his most immediate opponent, but the French left-back will need his centre-backs to provide plenty of cover.

Michael Cox is the editor of and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.


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