Juventus take on Real Madrid on Saturday (live, 2:45 p.m. ET on FOX), looking to raise the Champions League trophy for the first time in 21 years. They've been stellar this season in both Serie A and Champions League, but they're coming up against an opponent that can match them in every single area of the pitch. The defending champs Real Madrid are an incredibly tough proposition, and it goes without saying Juventus will have to be at their best to secure a result.
What are the keys for Juventus to escape Cardiff with a win in this one?
Win the midfield battle
Juventus and Real Madrid boast two of the best midfields in Europe. Madrid are especially strong in the middle of the park though, and with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, they boast two of the best passers on the entire planet. For Juventus to be successful not only do they need to limit the threat Kroos and Modric present on the defensive side of the ball, they'll also need to get hold of possession and use it in an efficient fashion. It's easier said than done, but winning the midfield battle will go a long way in determining who's comes out on top.
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Mitigate the Marcelo-Ronaldo danger
Marcelo hasn't just been Europe's best left back this season, he's been one of the very best and most dangerous players period. His link with Ronaldo down Madrid's left has been absolutely devastating this season, and there's no question one of Juventus' top priorities will be to do whatever it takes to mitigate the attacking danger they pose.
One big way to keep Marcelo and Ronaldo out of the game is to make them defend. Winning the midfield battle and keeping possession will go a long way towards that. Juventus will attempt to keep Real Madrid pinned in their own half as much as possible and limit the Merengues to playing on the break.
Still, Juve will have to deal with their threat one way or another though, and ensuring neither Marcelo nor Ronaldo are left one vs. one, unmarked, or generally unattended will go a long way towards ensuring success for the Bianconeri. Ronaldo's an all-around nightmare to deal with, and his off-the-ball runs, finishing ability, and new, more team-based game will be a constant hazard for the Bianconeri. Similarly, Marcelo's unceasing energy, dribbling ability and marauding runs are a worry for the Bianconeri.
If they can be minimize the danger both pose? There's a real chance.
Take advantage of mismatches
One of the biggest benefits of Juventus' 4-2-3-1 formation is the mismatches it causes all around the pitch. Perhaps the most important of those mismatches is out on the left wing, where Mario Mandzukic holds a physical advantage on just about every single player he lines up against. He serves as a sort of "target winger" out wide, using his aerial ability to provide an outlet to clear the danger for Juventus, provide knockdowns for his fellow attackers, and capitalize on his physicality at the back post.
Aerially, Mandzukic is unmatched, and few teams have been able to cope with the attacking threat of he and Sandro down Juventus' left. Far from just a physical brute though, Mandzukic's interplay with his teammates also creates constant danger, and his defensive work rate means Juve's left side is a nightmare for opposing attackers.
Not only do Madrid have Kroos and Modric, but Zinedine Zidane will likely deploy Isco in front of the two deeper-lying midfielders, with Casemiro cleaning up danger in behind the three. Isco in particular presents a special menace, and his ability to float in between the lines is a worry for Juve.
Isco thrives at finding pockets of space around the pitch, especially in the gap between midfield and defense. Juventus' two-man midfield will have to be extremely attentive to the mismatches he can create, and Isco will need to be closed down at every opportunity to keep him from being the creative inspiration he's been time and time again for Zinedine Zidane and Madrid.
It seems like the simplest point, but too many times this season Juventus have been wasteful in front of goal. That has to change in the Champions League final, and the Bianconeri have to take the chances that come their way against Los Merengues.
Madrid are a team chock full of attacking talent, and they, more than almost any other team in the world, are ruthlessly efficient in front of goal. Juventus don't boast quite the firepower Real do, and it stands to reason there's a good chance they won't create as many opportunities in front of goal. The Bianconeri have a prodigiously talented attack, but for them to be successful against Madrid they'll need to be ruthless in front of goal. Fluffing chances and spurning golden opportunities isn't going to win the Bianconeri the Champions League trophy: nothing but pure, coldblooded efficiency will do it.
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