Juventus and Real Madrid are set to take the field in Cardiff on Saturday with the eyes on the glorious UEFA Champions League trophy.
Italian football has somewhat taken a backseat, of sorts, in recent times, with several giants like AC Milan and Inter Milan not being able to stamp their authority in Europe. However, Juventus have been carrying the mantle alone in the Champions League, impressing everyone with their structure.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, have seen their local rivals surge towards the top and challenge them in Europe as well. However, Los Blancos have also taken it up a notch, with this being the third UEFA Champions League final in four years.
Juventus should win this to boost the hopes of a glittering Italian club football in the future while Real Madrid can create history on the night by becoming the first side to defend the Champions League crown – a feat that would not have been possible without Zinedine Zidane.
Only one team, though, will be able to leave Cardiff as champions on the night as we take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Massimiliano Allegri has almost the whole squad at his disposal with Marko Pjaca the only casualty prior to the game. The back four of Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini are perhaps the best in world football right now and have been at the top for at least the last half-decade, if not more.
There will be added emotion to the pressure of Champions League final as Sami Khedira squares up against his former club while Dani Alves aims to add another feather to his already beautifully concocted cap while he is unlikely to forget the rivalry he had with the players on the other side during his time at Barcelona.
Allegri is likely to stick with the Brazilian duo of Dani Alves and Alex Sandro on either flank, who have been indestructible every time they take to the field. The onus will be though, on the front three of Mandzukic, Dybala and Higuain, who will also be going up against his former club on Saturday.
Even though Juventus usually play compact football, the game is likely to be an open one with Real Madrid trying to carve out chances and pushing high while Juventus aim to hit their opponent on counters and release their front three to do the damage.
Probable Lineup ( 3-4-3 ): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Alves, Pjanic, Khedira, Sandro; Dybala, Higuain, Mandzukic
Zinedine Zidane, too, does not have much selection headaches going into the final. The major point for Los Blancos in the lead-up to the game was the fitness of Gareth Bale, who himself has admitted that he is far from 100% and is likely to find a place on the bench for Saturday.
However, this is unlikely to come as a relief for Juventus, with Isco taking up the mantle and the Spaniard has been nothing short of magical in the last few matches for Real. Isco’s presence in the lineup will push Cristiano Ronaldo upfront to partner Karim Benzema.
The Portuguese icon has shown that despite not being the regular threat he was, his finishing ability makes him a predator who can change games in the blink of an eye – the evidence in point being the hat-tricks against Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich.
It will be interesting to see though, as to what effect Casemiro is able to have on the match. The player has become a vital cog in Zidane’s side and will be crucial once again as he mops up the passes while providing Modric and Kroos the license to venture forward.
Probable Lineup ( 4-3-1-2 ): Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Isco; Ronaldo, Benzema
1. Gianluigi Buffon is yet to add a single Champions League to his glittering career and a triumph on Saturday could complete his trophy cabinet.
2. There has been at least 2 goals in each of the last six matches played between the two sides.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo looks ominous, with as many as eight goals in his last four Champions League fixtures this season. The Portuguese enigma also has a potent record against Juventus, with 5 goals and an assist in 4 appearances against the Italian giants in the elite competition.
4. Juventus have never trailed in the knockout phase of the present Champions League campaign while Real Madrid have conceded the lead in five matches out of six. Los Blancos, though, have scored in every Champions league match this season.
5. The present campaign has been the most productive Champions League campaign for Gonzalo Higuain, with 5 goals so far.
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The Juventus stopper is widely regarded as a legend and the only major triumph left to add to his trophy cabinet, which also includes the World Cup, is the Champions League. The veteran has a chance to alleviate the statistic on Saturday and is likely to be forced into action multiple times, given the quality of oppositions’ attack.
Buffon has conceded just once in the knockout phase up until now and with the able support of the trio of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini, the Italian will have to produce another magical performance to lead his side to the Champions League trophy.
Juventus 2 – 1 Real Madrid
While Real Madrid may be favourites going into the match, no side has been able to defend the Champions League crown and it is likely to remain the same. Real Madrid will surely push on to etch their name in the history books.
The unstoppable force meets the immovable object – sounds cliche, right? Well it is the case in point in the Champions League final and we are tipping the immovable object to derail the unstoppable force, only narrowly.