The hours to go before the Champions League final are getting fewer and fewer. The anticipation for the grand finale in Cardiff is going in the opposite direction, with Juventus and Real Madrid set to square off for the biggest prize European club football currently has to offer.
With all of the Juventus-centric pieces we’ve had of late, we figured it would be a good idea to have one final Real Madrid-related post to have you all mull over in the hours and minutes before kickoff.
What a better way to return the favor of Managing Madrid asking us questions about Juventus than to do the same when it comes to the other half of this Champions League final, right?
So, we’ve got one of Managing Madrid’s top guns, Kiyan Sobhani, to help us out when it comes to chatting things up about the reigning Spanish and European champions.
Away we go!
BWRAO: Obviously we know about Cristiano Ronaldo's dominance in the Champions League of late. But how has he been able to sustain such this insane goal-scoring pace throughout the tournament?
MM: Two reasons...
1) He’s a unicorn, one of the greatest players of all-time, takes an injection of cojones before every big game, and wears extra CR7 underpants to keep his balls from hanging out of his shorts and drilling a sinkhole into the earth; and 2) Zidane’s gotten Ronaldo to buy in to taking more rest. Ronaldo only played 28 of the 38 league games this season, which has kept him fresh for the timeless European nights. Zidane deserves a lot of credit for this.
BWRAO: There are a lot of people around BWRAO who still love them some Alvaro Morata. Even though he hasn't been a full-time starter this season, how would you say his return to Madrid has gone?
MM: Mixed bag. Everyone loves Morata here, too. We all want him to succeed, and depending on what your expectations were of him, he’s either succeeded or not. On one hand, he’s the second-highest scoring player this season behind Ronaldo in the league. On the other hand, most of his minutes have come against smaller opponents, and he doesn’t get a sniff in big games. For me, that’s disappointing — even if it’s not his fault — because his reputation at Juve was built on his ability to step up in big games.
I don’t imagine he’ll play much on Saturday. I mean, it’s not set in stone, but Zidane’s second-choice striker behind Benzema has been ... Ronaldo. Zidane likes to sub Benzema off for an extra midfielder like Asensio; simultaneously packing the midfield and pushing Ronaldo up top as the ‘nine.’
That’s something that Morata has going against him, particularly because there are so many impressive options in midfield who can allow Zidane to alter the scheme mid-game.
BWRAO: What's Real Madrid's biggest weakness?
MM: In the last month-and-a-half, with Bale’s injury, and also Isco’s emergence, Zidane has morphed the team into a diamond. It’s been a refreshing scheme that has its perks. Isco acts as the spearhead and roams around productively. Kroos has a more offensive role with less defensive responsibilities. Modric, while not in his preferred role, has been fantastic on the right flank playing as a non-traditional right midfielder who can create from deep and help defensively while providing outlets in midfield. But, defensively, it’s a narrow formation, which should worry Real Madrid given the strength and two-way presence Juve’s flanks possess.
Unless Zidane has something up his sleeve to mend the issue defensively on the flanks, I think Allegri can exploit the inefficient coverage from Carvajal and Marcelo’s bombing runs in the diamond. If Real Madrid really want to combat this caveat, Kroos needs to have a shorter leash offensively, or, Zidane would have to field both Bale and Isco together while benching Benzema to strengthen the defensive blueprint and secure the flanks. I don’t see that happening, though.
BWRAO: What scares you most about Juventus?
MM: Kind of already talked about this before, but, I’ll shoehorn it in again: Higuain’s hunger. I really think that’s a real thing. He’ll have a chip on his shoulder. Of course, there’s always the other obvious things which I won’t rehash too much: Juve’s flanks, which are pretty well built to deal with Real Madrid’s elite wing-backs and wingers; and their defense, and ability to keep their shield without sacrificing much offense.
I think that last point is what makes Juve so good. Atletico, for example, on their day are one of the best defensive teams on the planet -- but they cede their offense in doing so. Juve’s attack is much more incisive with all their off-ball movement and dynamic counter-attack.
BWRAO: How has Zidane grown from his first to second season as manager?
MM: Tactically, he’s diversified. He has different schemes for different situations, players, and opponents. But, I think most of his improvements were actually implemented over the summer. It was always going to be intriguing to see what the team looked like if they gave the keys to Zidane and let him build. He opted for continuity and investments in the youth system. And, as we mentioned before, twisting Ronaldo’s arm to rest more — which stemmed all the way back to the summer — was a big shift.
BWRAO: Real Madrid's midfield seems to be really well constructed from the outside looking in. What is it about that group of players that makes them so good?
MM: Modric refuses to age. He’s been incredible this season. And as is tradition with Toni Kroos, he’s peaking at the apex of the season. You could make a case for both of them being the two best players in their position, so when you throw them into the same midfield — that helps.
Then you have some dominoes set off — the supporting cast has aided a lot. Casemiro has relieved those two of a lot of defensive duties; while players like Isco and Asensio have been tremendous all season in providing outlets and helping Modric and Kroos bind the transition in attack.
BWRAO: You asked for my prediction. So, what's your prediction?
MM: 3-1 to Real Madrid.
BWRAO: (We’ll forgive you for the prediction that nobody around here will like, Kiyan. Thank you for answering my questions.)