With the completion of Juventus’ Serie A season, the countdown to the Champions League final is officially on. It didn’t take long for Juve’s social media accounts to switch from celebrating Moise Kean’s last-minute winner against Bologna to what is going on in Cardiff as Saturday went on.
So, following suit, we are doing the same.
There are plenty of storylines and things to talk about heading into Juventus’ final game for the next six or seven weeks. This matchup of European heavyweights does not lack for intrigue or history. Real Madrid are the current Champions League holders after beating Atletico Madrid last season, while Juventus are trying to win the club’s first Champions League trophy in over two decades.
There will be stars all over the field. Real Madrid, famous for their Galácticos ways, certainly don’t lack for star power, but are also a team that has shown some vulnerability at times this season.
With that being said, we’ve posed this question to kick off the first of four BWRAO roundtable discussions that will be appearing in the build-up to this Saturday’s titanic final clash. It’s simple, too: What will Juventus have to do to have a chance at beating Real Madrid?
Counterattack effectively, adequately deal with the threat on the wings and handle that pesky bugger Marcelo. As we all know, Real Madrid use the wings very aggressively and effectively — especially through the Cristiano Ronaldo-Marcelo combination. If Juventus can nullify that threat enough and counterattack efficiently into the vacated space, I think we stand a good chance of succeeding in Cardiff.
The final against Real Madrid is going to be extremely difficult and will not be a cakewalk as I’ve seen some say on social media. Real Madrid’s a legendary team looking to become the first side to defend the title of Champion in the Champions League era. It will be imperative for Juventus to not concede in the first 20-25 minutes of the match. Ivan Rakitic’s goal in the fourth minute of the 2015 final set the tone, and Juventus were scared and nervous for the entirety of the first 45 minutes. It was not until the second half that Juventus started showing its true potential. It will be imperative to set the tone —our tone — early as we did against Barcelona in April.
Second, Juventus will need to capitalize on our scoring chances. How often are we left after a game saying, “It should have been 4- or 5-nil”? This lack of capitalization can work in Serie A where the teams are not as offensively gifted, but if we don’t bury our chances against Real Madrid we will be buried ourselves. There are only so many chances you can waste before Ronaldo & Co. make you pay. If Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain are on form when June 3 rolls around, we will have our say in the match.
In no particular order, the most important things will be:
- Play mistake-free defense. If you give Real Madrid a gift horse they won't look it in the mouth. You have to keep everyone covered, particularly Cristiano Ronaldo. If they beat a tight ship, fine, but don't give anything away.
Also included in this general note: For God's sake, mark Sergio Ramos on set pieces.
- The knockout rounds certainly have felt damn near perfect, but the team's success has provided cover for a potentially major issue — profligate finishing. Juve have been guilty of wasting some fantastic chances over the last three rounds of the tournament. They could have been up 4-0 or more in the first half of the second leg against Monaco — although it can also be said that Danijel Subasic pulled off a few incredible saves. But Gonzalo Higuain wasted a few really good chances in the first leg against Barcelona and overall the team's finishing in the Champions League has been something less than ruthless. Given Real's defensive weaknesses, there will be chances. Juve must take them.
- Contain Marcelo and (if he’s fit) Dani Carvajal. While Dani Alves and Alex Sandro have been absolute dynamite and are well worth a shoutout for best fullback pair in the world, their primary competition to the throne would be the Madrid duo. They are absolutely deadly on the overlap. And it’s telling that despite many being aware of just how lethal they can be, they're still so hard to contain. The likes of Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado will have their hands full in ensuring we aren't blown away by them.
- Do not allow Toni Kroos and Luca Modric to settle into a rhythm. If they win the midfield battle, the game can go down hill very quickly.
- Pull an Italian Job on Ronaldo. Tussles with the best strikers seems to elevate Giorgio Chiellini into legendary elite levels, and he'll have to be at his very best to keep the Madrid talisman quiet on the night.
- Contain Kroos and Modric’s influence. After their nervy start in the second leg against Ateltico, where they went 2-0 down inside the first 15 minutes, Real were left reeling. And were there for the taking. But the minute Kroos and Modric started getting the ball more, they relaxed. Both players helped take control of the game, playing at the pace they wanted and from then on Real never looked back. Juve have the players needed to shut off the supply from midfield to the forward line. Look at how they dealt with Barcelona in that aspect, but whether they can shut down the influence of Kroos and Modric completely remains to be seen and could be the deciding factor.
- Use Dybala as the main threat of attack. It sounds obvious, but in a game like this coaches can be guilty of overthinking. Just get Dybala the ball. Casemiro is prone to reckless tackles and getting Dybala the ball often will mean the Madrid defensive midfielder will have to chase around the Argentinian, resulting in an exhausting and frustrating night. He’s bound to commit a few fouls via silly and needless sliding tackles. Sergio Ramos won’t be willing to come out to commit on Dybala often because if he does it means Higuain is left one-on-one with Varane, while Varane himself is too slow to cover Dybala. This is a good area for Juve to attack Real from.
- Use Mandzukic’s height advantage. This is why he’s in the team, right? His heading ability and height advantage of full-backs are a good point of attack. Carvajal won’t be able to deal with it, and once again will Real want to commit a CB on him while leaving space for someone like Dybala to attack into? If Juve score on the night, and I expect them to, it will come from the left-hand side.
- Take advantage of Real Madrid’s backline. As good as their attack can be, their defense leaves much to be desired. I see it as a glaring weakness that can be exploited. While their 41 goals conceded in La Liga is decent compared to some other La Liga sides, Juve’s 26 in Serie A is much better. If Carvajal is unavailable, the majority of attacks should look to be started from that side.
- Containing Real Madrid’s attack, and probably limiting them to a single goal. I think we can count on a couple goals going into the Real Madrid net, but should also be expecting them to at least finish off one chance. As good as our defense is, their attack can give them a run for their money on their best day. Limiting them to a single goal would be a good performance by the defenders.
- Make the most of our chances. Even with Madrid’s weak defense, with only 90 minutes to play, we need to make the most out of our chances and score while we have the chance because every chance could be our last.
Draw out Madrid's midfield. Defensively, Real Madrid’s not solid. Juventus played some tough opponents with defensive woes this season. Monaco plays with risky tactics. Barcelona doesn't defend. Real Madrid does not take too many risks, and they do defend. They just don't do it consistently. So they are very similar to Roma — the strikers and most midfielders don't hold a cohesive shape consistently and leave their defensive midfielder (Daniele De Rossi/Casemiro) very exposed. So Juventus' double pivot and Dybala need to handle the passes well so that they can draw out Modric, Kroos or even Casemiro. But they also need to cut out those unforced errors when they pass the ball, something they’ve done more often in the recent matches.
It's been a rather strange month for Gonzalo Higuain. On May 3, he scored a brace against Monaco in the first leg of that fixture. And almost immediately the Argentine's dreadful history of Champions League non-success was eliminated. Just a few days later, when Juventus were about to relinquish their unbeaten home record, Higuain entered the game as a substitute and scored a point- and record-saving goal. Since then, he's been wasteful. He assisted Mario Lemina in a fruitless effort against Roma, but in every match we've seen, including most recently against Bologona, he's been considerably off the mark.
All this to say, I'm looking for Pipita to finish chances. Real Madrid concede a high number of shots, but not too many goals, especially recently.
The second thing I'm looking for is an unlikely performance of greatness from the Bianconeri. All the talk will focus on Higuain, Dybala, Buffon, BBC, Dani Alves, as it should, and I know I named almost the entire team, but I think it may take a moment of brilliance from one of the under-appreciated players to secure the Champions League: a free kick from Miralem Pjanic, a stray rebound from Mr. No Good, a header from Sami Khedira.
Juve will need to play mistake-free football. A simple turnover in the midfield can lead to a lightning-quick counter the other way. Real manufacture tonnes of offense and the best way to keep them off the scoresheet is to give them as few as possible chances to score from. They create enough on their own without Juve gifting them more opportunities from errors.
- Stop Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo will not play second fiddle in the final. His confidence is off the charts after he scored back to back hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atlético de Madrid. Additionally, he knows that he must beat Gigi Buffon to be this year’s clear Ballon d'Or winner. If the BBC can frustrate Ronaldo early in the game, Real Madrid will be forced to make adjustments. It’s always good news when your defense provokes problems to the rival’s star player. Especially, if this player is somebody with Cristiano’s gigantic ego.
- The Coaching Battle
Zinedine Zidane’s numbers with Real Madrid are excellent. However, I firmly believe Massimiliano Allegri is a superior strategist. Allegri’s game plans have been excellent in the Champions League knockout stage. Firstly, his squad showed patience and maturity to beat Porto effortlessly. Secondly, the mighty Barcelona MSN look ordinary and predictable against Juve. Finally, Allegri crafted a blueprint to control Monaco’s electric attack. Yes, Madrid beat Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, but they suffered a lot. A red card to Arturo Vidal and two offside goals by Ronaldo doomed the Bavarians in extra time. In the same way, a hopeless Atleti almost achieved an amazing comeback in the semifinals.
Juventus against Real Madrid will be a clash of titans. Nonetheless, Max must be pivotal in Cardiff.