Real Madrid and Juventus, two giants of European football, meet in tomorrow night’s Champions League Final showdown in Cardiff. Who will be crowned as kings of Europe for 2017 as The irresistible Force meets the Immovable Object?
Champion vs Champion, Spain vs Italy, Los Blancos vs the Bianconeri, a lethal attack vs a watertight defence, Real Madrid vs Juventus, vamos! Let’s go!
Real Madrid and Juventus, two clubs who are steeped in history, both aim to create more tomorrow night by emerging victorious. Real, already the most successful club in the history of the European Cup, are aiming to win their 12th title and are also aspiring to become the first team ever to successfully defend the Champions League following their victory over city rivals, Atlético Madrid in last year’s showcase.
Meanwhile, Juventus, who have won Serie A and then completed a double by beating Lazio 2-0 in the Coppa Italia final became the first Italian team to win the domestic cup in three consecutive years. Now aiming to win a treble, they look to achieve a feat which the club has never managed throughout its illustrious history which stretches all the way back to 1897.
The men who manage these respective sides, Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid) and Massimilliano Allegri (Juventus) are both hot property around Europe as clubs seek to sway them to work their magic away from both the Santíago Bernabéu and the Stadio Delle Alpi, now known as The Juventus’ Stadium. It is clear why both men are so sought after.
Zidane, regarded by many as one of the finest players to have ever graced the game of football, took over at Real Madrid in January of last year following a run of disappointing results under then manager Rafael Benítez. The Real Madrid legend, who scored a spectacular volley in Madrid’s triumph over Bayer Leverkusen in the 2001 final in Hampden Park has since steered Los Blancos to success in Europe last year, and pipped Barcelona to the La Liga title this year.
What’s more is that he has managed to unite what was a fractured Real Madrid dressing room over the past few years into a cohesive, attacking unit that emerged as a side that could go on and finally mount a sustained domestic challenge to Madrid’s nemesis, Barcelona, over the next few years. Regardless of tomorrow’s result it is highly unlikely that Zidane will depart the Spanish capital.
Allegri, may not have had as distinguished a playing career as Zidane but there is no doubt that his coaching career has been fairly fruitful thus far. Winning Serie C1 with Sassuolo, guiding Cagliari to 9th place in 2009; their best Serie A position in nearly 15 years at the time, winning the Panchina d’Oro (Manager of the year) in the same year ahead of Serie A winning manager José Mourinho and winning Serie A in his first year at the helm of AC Milan illustrating his managerial prowess.
However, one could argue that his best achievement has been his success in building on the foundations which former Juventus player and coach, Antonio Conte, laid before him. He has won the double of Serie A and the Coppa Italia every year since taking over from Conte and has guided Juventus to 2 of the last 3 Champions League finals. His tactical flexibility is to be praised as his Juventus side can easily alternate between a 3-5-2 formation and a 4-4-2 depending on the opposition.
While he may not appear calm on the sideline, Allegri believes that football is a way to relax and this philosophy transcends itself onto the pitch with the calmness his side have, especially when defending.
‘‘I really enjoy coaching, that is what makes me relax. When the stress sets in and I no longer enjoy it, that’s the time to change.’’
Both sides are littered with superstars with the likes of current Ballon d’Or holder, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Gonzalo Higuaín and Gianluigi Buffon all set to feature tomorrow night.
It’s widely expected that Real will have more possession and that Juventus will sit deep to defend the countless threats that Real possess, none bigger than the in-form superstar Ronaldo who excelled against both Bayern Munich and Atlético Madrid notching 8 goals in the four legs played. Expect Juventus to start with a back 3 of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and the evergreen Giorgio Chiellini with an onus on wing-backs Alex Sandro and the rejuvenated Dani Alves prepared to tuck in and shift to a back 5 when Real come forward. The likes of Miralem Pjanic, Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira (if fit for selection) will sit in front of the defence to prevent the dynamic Isco threading through any passes to Karim Benzema or Ronaldo.
Gonzalo Higuain, the former Real Madrid marksman will start up front for the Old Lady and the responsibility of scoring lies firmly on the shoulders of both himself and his Argentine compatriot, Paulo Dybala. Indeed, Dybala will be looked upon as the link man to get the ball to Higuaín or to score himself. Touted to leave for Barcelona this summer , tomorrow presents an excellent opportunity for him to exhibit his talent on the grand stage and what better way to endear himself to what could possibly be his future fans next season than scoring the winner against their eternal rivals.
Real’s conundrum is whether to play with the inconsistent Gareth Bale or Isco, who has been excellent in Bale’s place. Many feel that Real are better balanced without the Welshman in the starting XI despite his obvious skill. Isco tends to work harder but could still miss out yet. However, Zidane hasn’t ruled out starting both players.
‘‘I won’t tell you who plays. Last week I said they could even play together. Anything could happen. The important thing is that I see they are all ready to play, not just physically, but psychologically too. What I care about is that we are all in physically good shape at the end of the season and that’s positive. You’ll see how we play tomorrow.
We’ll give our everything to win the Champions again. It’s beautiful to be in another final but we are ready.’’
Expect the game to be tight from the off with chances to be scarce. There will be a huge reliance on set pieces and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a winner from a set piece in extra-time by either side. However, I’d expect Juventus to end their Champions League drought that stretches back to their win over Ajax in 1996 courtesy of the head of a defender from a corner in extra-time. Juventus have improved since their last defeat in the Champions League final. As the Irresistible Force meets the Immovable Object there’s a palpable sense that the Italian object will not be moved this time around.