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Barcelona vs. Juventus Is The Strongest Champions League Final Ever


Barcelona will take on Italian side Juventus in the Champions League final Saturday, and it may well be the strongest Champions League final ever. The sum of Barcelona and Juventus’s Elo ratings, according to the Football Club Elo Ratings, is higher than any final in history. (We love Elo around here — we’ve used it to explore the NBA, the NFL, chess and even Scrabble. Teams gain points for wins and lose them for losses. The higher your rating, the better.) You can see all this data from Champions League — known as the European Cup before 1992 — finals in the table at the top of this post.1

Juventus won Serie A by a full 17 points over second-place Roma, and its average league game was a 1.3-goal victory. And it’s fourth in the world according to Elo — only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are rated higher. This would be Juventus’s third title.

But Barcelona is beyond strong — so much so that it’s nearly unprecedented. It’s currently top-ranked in Europe and, by Elo, the strongest team to ever appear in a Champions League final. This would be Barça’s fifth title.

YEAR TEAM COUNTRY
1967 Celtic Scotland
1972 Ajax Netherlands
1988 PSV Eindhoven Netherlands
1999 Man. U. England
2009 Barcelona Spain
2010 Inter Milan Italy
2013 Bayern Munich Germany

And both teams are at near-historic peaks. Unsurprisingly, given the trophies it’s won already this year, Barcelona has shot up since the beginning of 2015 and is just about one win away from achieving the highest Elo rating in club history. Ditto Juventus, which is in its finest form in more than 15 years. It helps that both teams have won two major trophies already this year — whoever wins the Champ League final will complete a rare “treble.” (This has happened only seven times in European soccer, including once for Barça, shown in the table.)

Oh, right, and there’s this Lionel Messi fellow, who plays for Barcelona. The game could serve as a popular referendum on his status as the greatest footballer of all time. If he scores in the match, he’ll be the first to do so in three Champions League finals, and he will lead outright this year’s competition in scoring, edging out Cristiano Ronaldo. And after seeing this Messi goal in the Copa del Rey final last Saturday, I’m tempted to just throw all these spreadsheets out the window.

The market odds for the game have, as I write, settled around 4-to-11 for favorite Barcelona and 9-to-4 for underdog Juventus — implying a roughly 70 percent chance of a Barça victory. That’s right in line with what the Elo ratings imply — about a 71 percent chance of a win for Barcelona. Just because it’s the strongest Champions League final ever doesn’t mean it’ll be the most competitive.

Footnotes

  1. One may suspect that some ratings inflation is responsible for the strength of this and a few other recent finals. However, a simple regression reveals only a very weak inflationary trend. One reason for the strength of many recent finals may be increasing inequality — the gulf between the great teams and the average ones is likely widening. Also note that the 1974 final was replayed, hence its appearing twice. And if a few totals look off, that’s because of rounding.

Oliver Roeder is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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