All of Europe awaits an epic battle between the Spanish and Italian juggernauts of football, Real Madrid and Juventus.
Two of the world’s most historic and prestigious clubs meet each other in the Champions League final, to be played in Wales’ Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Both teams have already secured their respective league titles, and this clash fundamentally does serve as the true crowning champion of Europe.
For Massimiliano Allegri and Juve, it has been a year of change and maturation. The incoming arrivals of Pjanic, Higuain, and Dani Alves have shown that upper management is no longer simply satisfied with Scudetto success. This is a squad built for European competition, with balance, style, and tactical intuitiveness. Throughout the season, and especially since Allegri’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Old Lady have been dominant both in Italy and in the Champions League. After Porto, they brushed aside Barcelona without having conceded a goal in either leg. Then came the French champions Monaco, and the Bianconeri surpassed them without too much of a stutter. Well deservedly, Juve have once again returned to the final. After their loss two years ago in Berlin, the players now have a taste of defeat and a keen experience to use as a reference point. Since that game the squad has improved quite significantly (even after the departures of Pirlo, Vidal, and Pogba), and they will not have the same excuse that they had in 2015. This time around Allegri’s men will undoubtedly be focused on the task at hand without being caught up in the moment.
Zidane on the other hand, faces his former team with even more pressure on his shoulders. Real Madrid are the Champions League holders, having conquered Atletico Madrid last year in Milan. Zizou will have a nearly fully fit squad, welcoming back to the fray Gareth Bale, who will be playing in his hometown stadium. For the Merengues the final comes as yet another trophy to add to an already filled cupboard. Juventus offer a new challenge for Real, as they are a team with a defense unlike they have seen this season. The last time Real Madrid met Juventus in a Champions League final, Zidane was on the field with a black and white striped jersey. Nineteen years later Zizou will hope to repeat that Los Blancos victory, this time on the bench for the Spanish side who bought the Frenchman from Juve in 2001.
Allegri has a fully fit squad to choose from, and he appears poised to choose Barzagli on the right side of the defense to complete the BBC (Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini) back line with Alex Sandro on the left. In the central pivot midfield roles, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic are expected to start behind the attacking trident of Mandzukic, Dybala, and Dani Alves. The latter of whom looks to replace Cuadrado in the Bianconeri attack. Juve’s summer money well spent will be put to the ultimate test against his former side, as Gonzalo Higuain will have the responsibility of leading the line as the lone striker. Among the Old Lady front four, a wealth of talent and experience combines to make their attack as potent and capable as their defense. The true wealth of experience comes though from the rear, with captain and legendary Gianluigi Buffon searching for one of the few trophies that alludes him in his glorious career.
Zidane can boast a nearly entirely healthy squad as well, with only a few question marks surrounding Bale’s full capacity. For this reason the Welsh attacker is expected to start on the bench, with the crafty and effective Isco to take his place alongside the extremely dangerous duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Benzema. Behind them the balanced trio of midfielders will likely be made up of Casemiro, Modric, and Kroos. All of which have the ability and work rate to disrupt Juve’s rhythm while being forthright and industrious on the counter attack. In the Madrid defense Varane and Sergio Ramos are expected to play their normal central roles, flanked by the effective Carvajal and the skillful Marcelo. Should Madrid find their consistency in passing, they can create havoc for their opponents. But they need to be weary, because Juve’s Argentine duo of Dybala and Higuain will present a difficult dynamic for them.
There are a number of back stories that could be added to this game. Zidane and Higuain against former sides. Dani Alves against former rival. Allegri the master coach against Zidane the master player. Offense vs Defense. CR7 vs Buffon….But the truth was simply put when Real Madrid coach said in a press conference leading up to the game, ‘In a final, anything can happen.’