This evening, Juventus and Real Madrid face off in the UEFA Champions League final in arguably the toughest Champions League final to call in recent memory. Both teams are well drilled with great attacking players who can turn the game on it’s head in an instant, whilst the defence and midfield could hold the key for both Juve and Madrid. No one can be certain as to who is the clear favourite, as the two teams are very capable of leaving Cardiff with the European trophy, but how can the Italian champions defeat this formidable Los Blancos side? Can Max Allegri’s side pull off the final piece of their treble shaped jigsaw, or will they fall at the final hurdle once again?
For Juve, it will certainly be a case of defence is the best form of attack and will need to use their famous back line as a base to work around. If they keep their defensive shape like they did against Barcelona and Monaco, they will be halfway to winning the game. Allegri is likely to set his side up in a 3-5-2, with Georgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci being the three at the back. They will sit deep and allow Madrid to have the ball in front of them, much like they did in the Nou Camp, and will have the help of the two full backs Alex Sandro and Dani Alves, who will be much more disciplined than their Madrid counterparts Marcelo and Dani Carvajal.
When you watch what Juve did against Barcelona and to a lesser extent against sides like Monaco and Napoli, they let them have the ball in the final third, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to break through them, but they would be play a dangerous counter attacking system. The two full backs would fly forward and with Miralem Pjanic on the ball, one of the most underrated midfielders in the world, Juve had someone who could always pick out a pass. His range of passing gives Pjanic the ability to find the full backs or even pick out forwards like Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado, who would then feed the ball into the box for Gonzalo Higuain.
The role of Sami Khedira will also be vital against his former club, as he will be the one tasked with stopping Toni Kroos and Luka Modric dictating play. The Old Lady will know that if you cut off the supply to the likes of Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, you nullify their threat. The majority of Madrid’s play comes through them two, so to cut them out and prevent them from running the game, Juve will have the upper hand immediately.
Of course, you always have the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo and his ability to score at any time, but it isn’t about stopping Ronaldo (because sometimes you simply can’t) it’s about stopping those around him. If you cut off the creators in the Madrid team, something Juventus know they can do, you stifle Madrid and force them to use the flanks, which then brings in the two full backs.
If Juventus defend like they have done all season and expose Madrid on the counter attack by either using Dybala and Higuain down the middle or Alves and Sandro on the wings, they will be in for a treat. They need to stick to their game plan, not try anything dangerous or risky and force Real Madrid to do something incredible to win the game.
This is unlike most finals in recent years. There isn’t a clear favourite, there isn’t an upper hand pre kick off, it’s equal and it’s equal unlike it has been in recent years. Juventus and Madrid are equally matched and will not give one another an ounce of room. If Juventus defend strong, expose Madrid on the flanks and counter attack them with pace, we may be seeing the Old Lady return to the top of European Football.