We have finally reached the biggest game of the season, with Real Madrid looking to defend their Champions League crown against Juventus.
Juventus v Real Madrid – 4:45am (AEDT), Sunday, June 4 @ The National Stadium of Wales, Cardiff
The final will be a classic battle of attack against defence. Madrid have scored 32 goals this tournament. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 10 of those, and only needs one more to become equal top scorer this season. Meanwhile, Juventus have conceded just three goals.
For Madrid, if they win, they will be the first team in Champions League history to go back-to-back. This would represent their 12th title. It would be a fine achievement, after winning the Spanish leaguetwo weeks ago.
If Juventus win, it will mark the third time in their history winning the Champions League. They are also league and cup champions this season in Italy. Juventus have the added emotion of finally giving legendary captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon his first Champions League crown at age 39.
There will be plenty of familiar faces, with Juventus having striker Gonzolo Higuaín and defensive midfielder Sami Khedira playing against their former side. Madrid have back-up striker Alvaro Morata, previously purchased by Juventus for two seasons from 2014-2016, until Madrid decided to buy him back.
Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has a big selection dilemma, with barnstorming winger Gareth Bale available for selection now despite not being 100 percent fit. However, Isco has performed strongly over the last month in Bale’s absence. Isco’s inclusion has prompted a formation change, with Madrid going with a 4-1-2-1-2 with Isco sitting behind strikers Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
This allows Madrid to be more direct when moving the ball forward, but robs them of a get-out option of being able to pass wide, with a greater chance of turning the ball over if pressed highly – as seen in the first 30 minutes in the last game against Atletico Madrid.
With Bale back, however, this would shift Madrid’s formation into the standard 4-3-3 with Bale playing on the left wing. It is likely Bale will be coming off the bench in the last 15-20 minutes to try and spark something if required, or he might be held off until later if the game goes into extra-time.
Zidane would also want to start Dani Carvajal at right-back, with back up Danilo being exposed when previously filling in. Carvajal has four assists this tournament, providing a solid go-to option coming up the flank.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has a line-up headache himself, with the temptation to make his backline more flexible to combat coming up against Ronaldo. Dani Alves has been in fine form playing as a right-winger. However, Alves’s previous experience playing as a right-back for Barcelona against Ronaldo’s Madrid over the years represents a strong case for Alves play more defensively.
Allegri will be secure in sticking with what Juventus have done to reach the final, with a 3-4-3 formation.
Key individual matchup
One key individual battle to look out for in the final is in midfield, with Luka Modric against Miralem Pjanic. Modric has set the scene beautifully for Madrid this season, when having long spells with the ball, his exquisite plays from midfield will be the key to unlocking the hardened Juventus backline.
While Pjanic has risen to another level atJuventus this season, with his freedom in being able to control the Juventus midfield has seen his passing game thrive, regularly being able to pick out teammates with ease and precision from distance if needed too.
Juventus appear to have the edge with their defensive record, but given how Champions League finals traditionally play out after a long season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this go into extra-time.