Two of Europe's oldest and most successful clubs will go head to head in Cardiff on June 3rd (Saturday, 2:45 pm ET on FOX). Juventus and Real Madrid have plenty of history with each other, and they've proven themselves to be the two very best teams in the competition. It's a storybook final, but what are the keys to lifting the trophy with the big ears?
Zinedine Zidane vs. Max Allegri
It's fitting that the Champions League final pits two of world soccer's brightest and best coaching minds. Zinedine Zidane and Max Allegri are both charismatic, Italian-educated managers who've been successful because of their brilliant tactical flexibilty and man-management. Allegri's switch to a 4-2-3-1 rejuvenated (sorry) the Bianconeri, turning a staid lineup into a "five-star" Juve filled with attacking players. Over in Madrid, Zidane's ability to maintain the delicate balance of egos in the Spanish capital is already legendary. The French icon, who played for Juventus before moving to Real Madrid to win Champions League as a player, has succeeded in playing to his team's greatest strengths with a 4-3-1-2 formation. Cristiano Ronaldo has thrived in his more central role, while Isco has seized his chance to shine after languishing on the bench for long periods of the season.
The final pits the two brilliant managerial minds head to head, with any sort of tactical surprises a possibility.
Paulo Dybala vs. Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos has rightfully drawn plaudits all season for his incredible performances at the heart of Real Madrid's defense. He's been inmmense both in front of his own goal and in front of the opposition's and now he and the Madrid defense have one of the biggest tests they've faced all year. Ramos and his (likely) partner Raphael Varane will have their hands full with former Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain, but his danger is a more straightforward one.
Paulo Dybala presents a more complicated problem to deal with. Given a free role in Juve's system, his tendency to drift around the pitch and seek the ball can create numbers-up advantages in dangerous areas, while his passing range, distance shooting and devilish trickery in and around the box makes him a worrying prospect from anywhere on the field.
Sergio Ramos will have to be alive to the danger he presents, especially as he tries to take advantage of the space in between Real Madrid's midfield and defense. It may not be Ramos himself stepping up to close Dybala down, but his organization and attentiveness on defense will be key.
The battle of the midfield duos
Both Juventus and Real Madrid are driven by the pairings in the heart of their midfield. While they typically line up in different formations, at the crux of their systems, they're each impelled by a pairing of two vitally important midfield players. For Real, that's typically Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, with Casemiro supporting them from behind and Isco in front, while for Juve it's usually Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira behind Paulo Dybala.
These two pairs dictate the pace of the game from midfield for their respective teams, and their head to head battle will be crucial. Their workrate to deny meaningful possession in dangerous areas will be just as important as the chances they create on the attacking end.
Leonardo Bonucci vs. Cristiano Ronaldo
It's no secret that Cristiano Ronaldo is still Real Madrid's biggest attacking threat. His move from the left wing to a more free role in the center has made him a more complete attacker, and now he's affecting the game in a brand new way for Real Madrid. While he doesn't have the same turn of pace he did as a younger player, he's become a more unselfish runner and passer, and it's benefitted Madrid as a whole. His scything runs 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. They'll have to be at the very top of their games to keep Ronaldo from being dangerous.
Marcelo vs. Dani Alves
It's the battle of the Brazilians out on the wing, and it may just be the most intriguing matchup of them all. Marcelo is probably the world's most skillful defender, and he's become Roberto Carlos 2.0 for Madrid down their left flank. He's tasked with dominating the entirety of the left side, while Dani Alves has the same job for Juventus down the right. Alves has been on fire for the Bianconeri in Champions League, and he's exploded in the knockout rounds, heating up fully with his incredible performances over two legs against his old side Barcelona. Alves will be especially fired up to take on Real Madrid once more, and he and Marcelo will know each other better than anyone. They're two of their sides' most important creative outlets, and if their ability to balance both defensive responsibility with their traditional pelting runs forward could make the difference in this one.