The stage is set for 2017 Champions League final at Cardiff on Sunday, with Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid ready to take on Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus. Both the teams faced stiff competition in their bid to reach the final. For Real, it was Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo who proved to be the key factor, scoring a hat-trick against Bayern Munich and derby rivals Atletico Madrid. For the Old Lady, it was their brilliant defence that ensured their success in the European tournament against Barcelona and young fiery side of Monaco.
Zidane’s tactics of resting Ronaldo in more games has brought out a much fitter striker than the fans have seen at the fag end of the season in past few years. The 2016 Ballon d’Or winner was also given a newer role this season by the manager. The shift from left-wing to a more central position ‘improved’ Ronaldo’s game, making him a dominating force inside the penalty-box.
With eight goals in the last four Champions League matches, there seems to be no stopping the Portuguese international. Overall, Ronaldo has scored 13 goals in the last nine matches. “The business end of the season is important. I feel good and want to be fit and firing because this is where things are decided,” he said in a recent interview.
For Juventus, it has largely become about their defensive prowess, with the 40-year old Gianluigi Buffon displaying another dominating season. In 42 games this season, Buffon has conceded only 28 goals, and has achieved 21 clean sheets.
The defensive strength of center back duo Giorgio Chillieni and Leonardo Bonucci has been an asset to the team’s defensive strength. The Italian defenders ensured the club makes it past Barcelona with ease. The duo cut down the forward runs inside the penalty box by Neymar and Lionel Messi and made Buffon’s task easy. Messi’s five shots out of six went off target, the most he missed in any game in last six years.
In Champions League, the two sides have been neck-and-neck. In 13 games, Juventus have won 6 games, while Madrid has registered victories in 5 games, drawing the remaining two. The last time two side met in 2015, it was Alvaro Morata who scored a goal for Juventus in both the legs, eliminating Real from the tournament in the semi-finals.
Now, with Morata playing for the opposite side, Madrid fans will hope he can display similar performance, but this time in their favour, even though it remains highly likely that the out-of-favour Spaniard will get a start.
Juventus’ struggle with finals
The clash against Los Blancos is Juve’s fifth Champions League final since winning the trophy back in 1995-96 season. Since then, the Bianconeri have suffered defeats against Borussia Dortmund (1996-97), Real Madrid (1997-98), Inter Milan (2002-03) and Barcelona (2014-15). Clearly, the Old Lady’s track record in European tournament finals has been abysmal in last two decades.
On the other hand, Real’s record in the same time period in finals has been perfect. The Spanish side has played five UCL finals since 1996, and has won them all, defeating Juventus (1997-98), Valencia (1999-2000), Bayer Leverkusen (2001-02), Atletico Madrid (2013-14 and 2015-16). Zidane has already won two major trophies in one year as Madrid’s manager and looks hungry to successfully defend the Champions League trophy, becoming the first manager to do so.