Europe’s elite will contest for the most coveted trophy in European football, when Serie A champions Juventus clash with La Liga champions Real Madrid on Saturday.
The Champions League final includes a Spanish team for the fourth consecutive year, as Real Madrid attempt to clinch their third Champions League crown in four years. Juventus will also be hoping to seek revenge on the Spanish, due to their 3-1 defeat against Barcelona in 2015.
Juventus are currently undefeated in Europe this season, whereas Real Madrid’s second leg defeat to Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals signalled the end to their unbeaten run. Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium will also host a contest between the team with the best attacking record and the team with the best defensive record.
The Old Lady have conceded only three goals in the Champions League this season, keeping 8 clean sheets in the process. Los Blancos have scored 32 goals, with Cristiano Ronaldo converting 10 of them.
Juve’s solid defence has kept the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar at bay, but can they prevent Cristiano Ronaldo from sparkling his magic? The former Manchester United star has netted seven goals in his last four games in the Champions League and poses a dangerous threat to the Italians
Massimiliano Allegri will be aiming to become only the second manager to guide an Italian club to the treble. Jose Mourinho achieved this with Inter Milan in the 2009/10 season, which coincidently is the last time an Italian club won the Champions League.
Juventus clinched the Serie A title on 21 May, just days after beating Lazio to win the Coppa Italia. The Italian giants also made further history, by becoming the first club to win six consecutive Serie A titles.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, won their first Spanish La Liga title since the 2011/12 season under Jose Mourinho. Zinedine Zidane has won three trophies in his first full season at the club (UEFA Super Cup, FIFA World Club Cup and Spanish La Liga) and will be hoping to complete the quadruple.
Real Madrid’s Route to Cardiff
Group F in the Champions League group stages was dominated by Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. The German and Spanish side took a combined 26 points from 12 matches, compared to Legia and Sporting’s accumulation of just 7 points.
Real Madrid conceded heavily during the group stages and failed to keep a clean sheet in their six matches. Fortunately, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale spearheaded their attack to contribute majorly for their 16 goals.
Zidane’s men opened their Champions League campaign with a less than convincing 2-1 win against Sporting Lisbon at the Santiago Bernabeu. They dropped points against Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park but returned to winning ways with a 5-1 victory against Legia Warsaw
Victory at Sporting Lisbon, was jammed between two disappointing draws against Legia Warsaw and Borussia Dortmund, in which they conceded 5 goals. They qualified for the knockout stages in second place, finishing two points behind table toppers Borussia Dortmund.
|Round||Team Name||Aggregate||Aggregate||Team Name|
|Round of 16||Real Madrid||6||2||Napoli|
|Quarter-Finals||Real Madrid||6||3||Bayern Munich|
|Semi-Finals||Real Madrid||4||2||Atletico Madrid|
Although Real Madrid finished second place in Group F, they were handed a relatively comfortable fixture on paper. Serie A side Napoli travelled to the Santiago Bernabeu and left with a 3-1 deficit to overturn in the second leg in Naples. Unfortunately for them, Real matched that score line in the second leg and eased into the quarter-finals.
They drew one of the European giants in the quarter-finals, in the shape of 2013 winners Bayern Munich. Former manager Carlo Ancelotti was left feeling hard done by, due to various controversial decisions relating to the officials in their 6-3 aggregate defeat.
A repeat of the 2014 and 2016 Champions League final took place in the semi-finals. Real met local rivals Atletico in the Madrid derby, which was ended after Real’s 3-0 win in the first leg. Despite Atletico’s best efforts, their 2-1 victory failed to prevent their fierce rivals from reaching their third Champions League final in four years
2016 Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo has scored seven of his ten Champions League goals in the knockout stages. This included two hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid respectively.
Juventus’ Route to Cardiff
Juventus, Sevilla and Lyon bullied Dinamo Zagreb during the group phase, with the Ukrainian’s failing to accumulate a single point. Juventus qualified relatively comfortably, scoring 11 goals and conceding on just 2 occasions.
Both of their draws came against Sevilla and Lyon, 0-0 and 1-1 respectively. They won comfortably in both ties against Dinamo Zagreb, boasting a 6-0 aggregate score line. In the reverse fixtures against Sevilla and Lyon, Juve won 1-0 and 3-1 respectively.
Surprisingly, Juventus’ home form looked to be the most concerning threat, after they won just one of their three fixtures in Turin. However, this dilemma was soon insignificant the knockout stages.
|Round||Team Name||Aggregate||Aggregate||Team Name|
|Round of 16||Juventus||3||0||Porto|
|Semi Finals||Juventus||4||1||AS Monaco|
The knockout stages saw more convincing results for Juventus in the Champions League. FC Porto failed to provide a threat to Allegri’s men, as they recorded a 3-0 aggregate win over the Portuguese outfit.
Barcelona had overturned a 4-0 deficit to reach the quarter-finals against Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round. They required another miracle after losing 3-0 in Turin but Juve’s defence kept MSN at bay for 180 minutes to reach the semi-finals.
The Champions League underdogs AS Monaco followed in the semi-finals, with young wonderkid Kylian Mbappe aiming to cause an upset. However, despite scoring, Juventus comfortably booked their ticket to Cardiff.
It’s simple to summarise the way both teams are likely to set-up at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday evening. Juventus will play the old-fashioned Italian defensive style, whereas Real Madrid will flood their attacking force forward to combat their defensive tactics.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Allegri will field a back-three of Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini (BBC) or opt for a back-four. Electing the defensive wall of BBC will suggest that more impetus will be on attack.
The back-three system worked well in the second leg against AS Monaco. Dani Alves and Alex Sandro played as attacking full-backs, which created various attacking options and also drove more attacks from Pjanic and Marchisio.
However, by playing a back-three, they’ll be playing into Real Madrid’s hands by matching their system. A back-four would be a more conservative option, as there’ll be less opportunities for Real to exploit the flanks due to Alves and Sandro covering deeper positions.
Cristiano Ronaldo will also have to be stopped! Chiellini and Bonucci have a contrasting partnership at the back, which could be complementary in thwarting the threat of the lethal Portuguese international.
Chiellini possesses good physicality and Bonucci is an alert and relentless warrior at the back. This could frustrate him and by stopping Ronaldo, the Real talisman, they’d have ideally excluded a huge goal threat.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple for Juve because they’ll have to defend against the root to stop Cristiano Ronaldo. What do I mean by the root? I mean the service. The creativity of Kroos, Bale and Asensio.
This could reduce Pjanic and Khedira to defensive positions to deal with the various attacking threats. Dani Alves and Alex Sandro will also be forced to sit deeper due to the overlapping runs of full-backs Carvajal and Marcelo.
I’ve spoken of Real’s attacking threats but Higuain and Dybala have also formed a strong partnership this season. Dybala netted two goals against Barcelona and Higuain has found the net on five occasions in Europe this season.
Mandzukic would also provide an aerial threat and he’s recently been shifted out towards the left hand side. He could tower above Carvajal if he’s played in a similar role, which could open up attacking opportunities for the midfield and attack.
Juventus 1-0 Real Madrid
For me, it’s Juventus’ year. They missed out on Champions League glory in 2015 and have improved significantly since the days of Antonio Conte. They play more efficient football and have replaced departing talent with stronger players
They’ve conceded only three goals in the Champions League this season and also possess good attacking talent. Especially if they score the first goal of the final, I can’t see Real breaking through their solid defence.
It’ll be a tactical battle between two of Europe’s best teams but I feel it will seriously lack goals. However, football can conjure up surprises and anything can happen in the beautiful game. One thing for certain is it’ll be a spectacle to behold and only a fool won’t be tuning into what promises to be the game of the season.