Two years ago when Juventus last played Real Madrid, the stakes were high. It was the Champions League semifinals. There was one of two spots in the grand final in Berlin at stake. It proved to be 180 minutes of the most intense Juventus-related viewing I can remember during my time as a Juve supporter. If you wanted a nice, relaxing afternoon or evening of Juventus watching, this wasn’t going to be your cup of tea.
Fast forward a little more than two years from those two games, a two-legged tie where Juventus advanced to the Champions League final on aggregate, and the two clubs are once again meeting on the field.
And this time, the stakes are just that much higher.
Juventus vs. Real Madrid. Champions League final. National Stadium of Wales in Cardiff. It’s about to go down, folks. It’s about to go down.
No, you’re nervous. Maybe it’s a good kind of nervous. That’s for you to tell me.
No matter what the current feeling of nervousness in your stomach is, this is the day we’ve been waiting for — and hoping Juventus got to — all season long. Even before the ball was kicked off in August, the Champions League was something that this club was targeting. Of course, making history and becoming the first-ever Serie A club to win six straight Scudetti was something both the club and supporters wanted to see happen. But at the same time, European glory, something that has eluded the club for over two decades now, has basically been club goal No. 1A next to Serie A being No. 1.
Coppa Italia? Done.
Champions League? (still loading)
There’s one more leg on this quest for a historic treble. There’s one more win to complete a piece of history that only a small number of clubs has done. Personally, I’m getting rather tired of hearing the sentence “The last Italian team to win the treble was Inter Milan in 2009-10,” but that’s just me. (Although I’m going to guess that a lot of folks around here feel that way, too.)
And as much as the 2015 final may sting for some, this is arguably Juventus’ best chance to win that lovely trophy with big ears since the glory of 1996. Juve aren’t just a favorite for a few, they’re the favorite to beat Real Madrid by many picking this game. That wasn’t the case two years ago.
Juventus has built this season’s team for this moment. It’s why they went out and signed Miralem Pjanic from Roma before the transfer window even officially opened. It’s why they went down to Naples and signed one of the best strikers in the world, Gonzalo Higuain, for a club-record transfer fee and teamed him with Paulo Dybala. It’s why Max Allegri, in arguably his most decisive move in a host of big-gamble moves the last three years, changed formations and turned Juve’s performances around for the better.
This Juventus team is set up to change the last 20 years of Champions League final disappointments. They are facing the tournament’s reigning champions, one that has claimed more Champions League trophies than anybody in the history of the competition, but Juve are pretty damn good themselves.
The day is almost upon us, my friends. The final in Cardiff is finally in the forefront.
It’s time to win the treble.
It’s time to give Gigi Buffon what he so rightfully deserves.
It’s time to win the damn Champions League.
For many, waiting 21 years to see Juventus hoist the Champions League trophy once more has been long enough.
IT’S THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL!!
Juventus could lose the Champions League final and then we’re all going to be sad.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Juventus’ defense vs. Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s impossible to start anywhere other than this.
It’s not going to be a Ronaldo against Leonardo Bonucci thing. It’s not going to be a Ronaldo against Giorgio Chiellini. It’s not going to be Ronaldo against Dani Alves, Alex Sandro or Andrea Barzagli. It’s Ronaldo against every single person with a Juventus jersey on who is back defending.
Ronaldo’s form of late in the Champions League has been absolutely insane. In his last four European appearances, he’s got two hat tricks and eight goals total. That’s more than Juve scored in the quarterfinals and semifinals combined. Go ahead and wrap your head around that.
Juventus don’t have a huge history against Ronaldo, but they have seen him somewhat recently. (If you want to call the Champions League semifinals two years ago as “recent” history.) There was only one goal scorer for Real Madrid over the last two legs, and that was Mr. Ronaldo himself.
Of course, the guy who scored the decisive goal for Juventus is now back in Madrid after his two-year stay in Turin, but that could only become an issue if he comes off the bench and steps on the field on Saturday night. For obvious reasons, stopping Ronaldo from doing Ronaldo things is Juventus’ priority No. 1 on defense come Saturday night in Wales.
2) Gonzalo Higuain on the biggest of stages.
You can’t avoid this one, either. Again, the whole 1 and 1A type of thing.
The easy narrative is to say that Higuain chokes in big games. And if you think that is always going to be the case, I’ll just go ahead and direct you to what he did against Monaco in the first leg of this season’s semifinals, basically one of the main reasons why Juve were able to head back to Turin with a 2-0 aggregate lead.
And I get that he hasn’t exactly been clinical in front of goal over the last 10 games or so, but one decisive goal against Real Madrid will change all of that.
We’ve seen Higuain come up big in big games this season. He’s scored goals against Napoli, he’s scored goals against Fiorentina, he’s scored goals against Torino and so on and so on. We’ve also seen him not take advantage of big chances in big games this season. It has been a damn good first season in Turin for the €90 million man, that’s for sure. But even Higuain, for all of his goal-scoring prowess, has been wasteful at times.
I guess that what makes him one of Juventus’ most important players come Saturday night in Cardiff. It’s easy to say that because of who he is and what he means to the Juve squad, but scoring against Real Madrid will be the ultimate feather in his cap and the ultimate narrative buster. Games like this one was one of the biggest reasons as to why Juventus signed him in the first place. And now, as people probably are still talking about his big game failures, he enters arguably the biggest game of his career to date on the club level.
3) The midfield battle.
If you put highlight videos of Luka Modric and Miralem Pjanic together into one massive file, it might as well be deemed illegal. Their passing ability is so insane, so beautiful, it’s the definition of wonderfulness on the football field.
Other than that, you have midfielders with very different characteristics. Maybe you could say that both of the Germans, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira, are a bit alike. But the thing I like about this game within the game is that you have different kinds of players that are going to be trying to stop one another.
The media is predicting that Real Madrid go with a 4-3-1-2 with Isco playing in the hole behind Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. That adds another aspect to the game in the center of the park considering that Isco — a long-rumored Juventus transfer target in recent windows — has been one of Real Madrid’s best players this season.
There won’t be the case where Juventus completely shuts Ronaldo out of the game or anything like that, I would assume. But if you win the battle against the guys who are going to be getting him the ball, the chances of winning the game just becomes that much greater. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
4) The battle of the really, really good fullbacks.
Marcelo. Dani Carvajal. Alex Sandro. Dani Alves.
Those are four of the best in the business, folks. And as our mothership has pointed out, they’re not just four dudes who are playing the role of defender to perfection. They aren’t solely offense-minded players, but they mean so much to their team’s success in the final third of the field.
CH Ho broke things down far better than I ever will in his massive tactical preview, so feel free to check that thing out and learn about Carvajal and Marcelo if you don’t know much about them already. Just be sure to take some good notes, too.
Here’s the thing, though: There’s no clear advantage for either team. Alex Sandro and Marcelo are two of the best left backs in the world. Dani Alves has been absolutely fantastic in the second half of the season — especially in the Champions League. And Carvajal, when fit, has really started to become a quality right back.
In a game full of attacking stars and world-class midfielders, there’s also one hell of a matchup when it comes to fullbacks. Who woulda thought that?
MY STARTING XI
Juventus XI (3-4-2-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Dani Alves, Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Alex Sandro; Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic; Gonzalo Higuain
Location: National Stadium of Wales, Cardiff, Wales
Kick-off time: 8:45 p.m. local time in Italy; 7:45 p.m. in the United Kingdom; 2:45 p.m. on the East Coast; 11:45 a.m. on the West Coast
TV: FOX, FOX Sports Deportes (United States); beIN SPORTS Canada, TSN1, TSN3, TSN4, TSN5 (Canada); BT Sport 2, BT Sport 4K UHD (United Kingdom); PremiumSport HD (Italy)
Online/Mobile: fuboTV, Fox Sports GO, Fox Soccer 2GO (United States); beIN SPORTS CONNECT Canada, fuboTV Canada (Canada); BT Sport Live Streaming (United Kingdom); Premium Play (Italy)
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