Setting aside all blind feelings of Juventus fanaticism and, equally, all irrationally cynical brooding, the prospects of facing Real Madrid on April 3 in Turin were — even before the injuries — inauspicious at best, given the suspensions of Medhi Benatia and Miralem Pjanic, the already-plagued fitness of the Bianconeri (including unavailable players like Federico Bernardeschi and Juan Cuadrado, i.e. the depth and insurance in attack). Now, of course, as Danny lovingly reminds us, Alex Sandro may not be available. Giorgio Chiellini may not be available. And literally the entire remaining attack — Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, and Mario Mandzukic — has recently missed time because of medical maladies.
These are the facts of the Juventus team sheet.
These are the facts of Real Madrid’s team sheet: They are spearheaded by a man named Cristiano Ronaldo, who is fresh off a four-goal, one-assist game in Spain. Predictably, he has been the best player in the Champions League, logging a dozen goals — four clear of second-place Wissam Ben Yedder. Ahead of the first leg in Turin, the back-to-back Champions League winners have not a single significant injury; in fact, the opposite is true: Real Madrid’s fitness level is the best it’s been in some time.
Zinedine Zidane has two of the most reliable, best fullbacks in the country. He has one of the world’s best center backs along with one of the world’s best young center backs. The midfield can start Mateo Kovacic, Marco Asensio and Luka Modric, which leaves a complete line of reserve midfielders in Casemiro, Toni Kroos, and Lucas Vazquez — not even to mention Isco or Dani Ceballos or Marcos Llorente. Imagine having those nine players from which to choose! Juventus regularly starts Sami Khedira in back-to-back games.
In attack, Karim Benzema and CR7 score goals, and Gareth Bale comes off the bench.
The cherry on top, as it were, is that Madrid don’t even have La Liga to worry about; they’re so far behind Barcelona the battle for the league is over, and they can focus on probably the thing they wanted the entire time, a third-straight Champions League crown.
I am 100 percent positive I will receive grief from the more loyal (or something) Juventus fans for not having faith, not being a true Bianconero, or not having the fino alla fine spirit or some such dubious banter, but I tried very, very hard to mention nothing but facts above.
Henceforth, the opinions.
Below I have, between these two rosters, selected a starting lineup worth of players if I were moving forward in the Champions League with the ability to choose whomever I wish.
Note: I am not considering the suspensions of Benatia and Pjanic, nor the injuries to Sandro and Chiellini. For simplicity’s sake, this team is running a 4-3-3, although RM doesn’t typically run this formation and however fluid it may end up being with the composite eleven.
Note II: I wrote this piece before the international break — i.e. before Sandro, Chiellini, and Khedira were injured. So let’s just pretend everyone is healthy. Hurrah for health!
Let’s do this.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon over Keylor Navas
For the record, I’d take Wojciech Szczęsny over either one at the moment, but if Buffon is fit Max Allegri will no doubt take him. Please don’t hear me as one of those people who thinks Buffon suddenly sucks; he’s still very good! I chose him over Navas, who himself is a pretty good goalkeeper! It’s just that every time I’ve seen the Polish man in net this season, he looks pretty immaculate. The reactions are lightning-quick. Buffon still probably retains the edge in his understanding of his defense, etc.
And yes I still have to copy-and-paste Woj’s name. I don’t care!
Left back: Marcelo over Alex Sandro
Battle of the Brazilians at left back, and I have to go with the more experienced fullback here. Sandro has certainly looked better than his early-season form lately — I wonder if his stints as a left winger have breathed a bit of life back into him — but Marcelo, while not a perfect player, is the more reliable of the two, and consistently offers great play on the attack or in defense.
Left center back: Giorgio Chiellini over Raphael Varane
Injured or not, King Kong rules. You can take this right here as a promise that Chiellini will play, and, frankly, even if he’s only 80 percent, I’d rather have Chiellini than pretty much anyone in the world. Let’s just say more than anyone in the world, to make things simpler.
Right center back: Sergio Ramos over Medhi Benatia/Daniele Rugani
Listen, you hate him, and I hate him, and Cuadrado hates him, but Ramos is a really good player. Benatia has been pretty damn good this season, but every now and then he still gives us one of those “WTF are you doing?” Benatia moments. Rugani, likewise, has played impeccably as of late, but if I’m taking 11 players from these squads to move forward in the Champions League I’m taking Ramos as my second center back without much argument.
For a moment, suspend your hatred of Ramos and think of how dirty a Chiellini-Ramos pairing would be.
Center back note: Calm down, I know Ramos plays on the left more with Madrid and Varane on the right.
Right back: Daniel Carvajal over Mattia De Sciglio
I love me some Mattia De Sciglio. The kid is positionally brilliant, if a little conservative for today’s game, and he’s recently flashed a strangely wonderful ability to pick out someone across the field and send the ball over like Paul Pogba.
But, like his fullback counterpart, Carvajal is the total package: he’s very good defensively, and he’s very good offensively, and he has substantially more experience than MDS although he’s just a year older.
Left midfielder: Marco Asensio over Blaise Matuidi
News flash No. 1: The midfield is going to be entirely Madrid’s.
News flash No. 2: No matter what kind of midfield you’re making, I’d probably go all Madrid. If I wanted a defensive-minded midfield, I’d take Kroos, Casemiro, and maybe Kovacic. If I wanted a heavily attack-minded midfield, I’d choose Asensio, Isco, and Modric.
Alas, I’ve sort of gone with a balance in this hypothetical 4-3-3, first fielding Asensio on the left flank partially because when I’ve seen the kid play he connects brilliantly with Ronaldo. Also a left flank of Marcelo-Asensio-CR7 is just damn dirty. And Madrid can do it whenever they want.
Center midfielder: Casemiro over Miralem Pjanic
As I said, with my current lineup I want balance, and I feel better with the technical ability of Asensio than, say, Matuidi, so I feel like I can sacrifice a bit on skill and take a bully like this Brazilian. He wins the ball, and he gives it back. He searches and he destroys. Actually, he has already threatened to break Douglas Costa “in half.”
Sad face emoji.
Right midfielder: Luka Modric/Toni Kroos over Sami Khedira/Claudio Marchisio
Both Modric and Kroos are relatively fresh off injuries and returning to fitness, but either is clearly a better choice than the German. As for Marchisio, I’m sure I’ll catch some flack. But my choice remains with the two more complete midfielders.
Left wing: Cristiano Ronaldo over Douglas Costa/Mario Mandzukic
I’m assuming I don’t need to justify this.
Striker: Gonzalo Higuain over Karim Benzema
Pipita gets the nod here, simply because he’s the better striker. As far as team morale and meshing goes, Benzema may be the better fit, as he seems content playing second fiddle — Higuain would probably be a bit hungrier in his place — but this reuniting would be kind of fun to watch, given the form of each and the growth Higuain has seen since his Real Madrid days.
Right wing: Paulo Dybala over Lucas Vazquez/Gareth Bale
La Joya is coming into form at the right moment, and let’s hope his fitness holds as well. This 4-3-3 would probably shift around a little bit, and could turn into more of a 4-3-1-2 with CR7 and Pipita on top, connected via Dybala, but no matter how you spin it you need this little Argentine on the field.
Final tally: Juventus 4, Real Madrid 7
Early-season form aside, Real Madrid have no significant weaknesses, and their strengths threaten Juventus in particularly vulnerable areas: namely the midfield, but also on the left flank in particular. Even with defensive stalwart MDS, right side of the Juventus backline will be under siege all night long. Honestly, with the current injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Allegri field a 3-5-2 — I’m sure that would get everyone excited for the game!
But for me, the midfield is where it hurts. I don’t think there’s a side in Europe who boasts the depth and nuance and roundedness that Madrid do in the center of the pitch. They’ve got attack-minded mids in Asensio, Vazquez, and Isco; they’ve got a true destroyer in Casemiro; and they’ve got pretty-much-do-everything wizards in Kovacic, Kroos, and Modric. Madrid’s mids boast experience and speed, technical savvy and damn fine distribution. Three of these dudes will almost certainly be starting, and likewise Khedira will almost certainly be starting. That’s a thing that’s going to happen.
Even if Juventus had every single player on the roster fit, including Bernardeschi and Cuadrado, I’d give Real Madrid a slight edge, maybe 55/45 percent odds. But Pjanic and Benatia are suspended. Chiellini and Sandro are ailing. Juventus have no attacking depth. Juventus play AC Milan before the first leg, while Madrid play third-to-bottom Las Palmas. Juventus are focused on the domestic league; Madrid are not.
These are the facts. Crazier things have happened in football than Juventus advancing here, but, needless to say, it’s not going to be easy. You can have all the fino alla fine you want, but if you’ve got players in the medical building, players with tired legs, and are playing one of the best teams in Europe, it may not matter.