Tension as Real, Juventus battle for glory in Champions League final today
Spanish giants Real Madrid and their Italian counterparts Juventus go head-to-head with both sides chasing history in a potentially explosive 2017 UEFA Champions League final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Los Blancos, who are seeking their 12th European crown, are aiming to become the first club in the history of the competition to win the title back-to-back since it was christened the UEFA Champions League in 1992 while the Old Lady are seeking to win only their third Champions League crown.
Real Madrid are the most successful team in the competition having won it in 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2014, 2016 while Juventus have won it in 1985 and 1996.
Zinedine Zidane’s side, who recently were crowned La Liga champions, will become the first ever team to defend the Champions League trophy if they can find a way past Juventus in Wales but the Italian giants will be no pushovers in today’s encounter.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side successfully defended their Serie A title this season despite losing a number of key players last season. They boast a mean defence which has conceded the least number of goals – three – in this year’s Champions League.
The European giants have clashed on 18 occasions, with both sides winning eight times each while the other two meetings ended in draws. It is however worthy of note that only one of the previous 18 meetings was in a final, where Madrid won 1-0 to lift their seventh European crown – the first in the Champions League era. On that day, current Los Blancos coach Zidane was on the losing side – as a Juve player.
Going into the final, Zidane faces a huge call over his choice of who to start between Isco and Gareth Bale in midfield. The Welshman has been impressive in the few matches he played in the Champions League this season and will want to impress on home soil if selected but the 27-year-old has been plagued by injuries with the latest –a calf problem – just cleared a few days ago.
However, Isco has performed creditably well while Bale was sidelined by injury – starting their last three matches in the competition and chalking up impressive performances. Apart from Bale, Dani Carvajal is also available after recovering from a hamstring injury earlier in May. Veteran defender Pepe is still out of the tie with broken ribs.
For Juventus, Marko Pjaca is out with an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury since March. The forward is in the third month of his six-month stay on the sidelines. Sami Khedira returned in Juve’s final game of the season after picking up an injury in the semi-finals against Monaco, while Mario Mandzukic should also be fit to start the game.
Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain will have the added incentive of wanting to beat their former club Real in the final, while Dani Alves – one of the stars of the tournament – will be looking to defeat Los Blancos given his strong Barcelona allegiances.
Going into the final, the Old Lady finished top of Group H, from where they progressed to the round of 16. A 3-0 aggregate defeat of Porto booked them a place in the quarter-final against Barcelona. They got another 3-0 aggregate win over the Catalans, who had earlier made a historic 6-5 comeback win against PSG in their round of 16 tie, to head into the semi-finals. A 4-1 aggregate win over the French champions, Monaco, secured Juventus a place in Saturday’s showpiece final.
For Real Madrid, they also finished atop Group F, which earned them a date with Napoli in the round of 16. The Italians lost 6-2 on aggregate to the reigning champions. German giants, Bayern Munich, who had dispatched Arsenal 10-2 on aggregate in their round of 16 clash, were beaten 6-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals by Los Blancos. Rivals Atletico Madrid inflicted a 2-1 second leg semi-final defeat on the champions to end their unbeaten run in the competition but Madrid prevailed 4-2 on aggregate after winning the first leg 3-0.
It’s no secret that Cristiano Ronaldo is still Real Madrid’s biggest attacking threat. His move from the left wing to a freer role in the centre has made him a more complete attacker. This has helped him to notch up 10 out of Madrid’s 32 goals in the competition this season. The goals also have helped to make him the highest scorer in the history of the competition. Ronaldo will be the focus of Juventus’ entire back line, but Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in particular will be tasked with dealing with his threat in the area.
Higuain is the highest goal scorer in this season’s Champions League for Juve with five goals from 11 matches. However, the former Real Madrid man – along with Khedira – will have revenge at the back of his mind against his former club. Paulo Dybala, whose eye for goals has contributed to making Juve the only unbeaten team in the Champions League this season, will also be a handful for the Madrid backline led by Sergio Ramos and Marcelo.
Meanwhile, Juve boss, Allegri, believes his team are capable of pulling off a surprise today.
“We have worked hard all year and the wins this season have been all about reaching this game. But on Saturday we need to win and we need to understand when will be the moments to attack and when to defend,” Allegri was quoted as saying by Sky Sports.
“We have to have the belief that we can bring that cup home and we have to be fiendish to strike when Real offer us an opening. Two finals in three years is an important step but it is not enough. We have to win and we must be tough, technically and tactically. We aren’t here to visit Cardiff – we came here to win and take that trophy back home.”
But Madrid captain Sergio Ramos claims the Cardiff showdown is ‘50-50’.
“This is a Champions League final so it’s quite possible that Juve will try to heat up things a little bit. We’re really focused on our job. In every final, both teams go out there from scratch, from zero,” he told Daily Mail.
“It is going to be a tough game, we’ve each got a 50-50 chance of winning – and of losing. I don’t know if there’s anything different in finals but we’ll continue to do everything that’s necessary on the pitch.”Punch