This year's Champions League Final between Juventus and the defending champions Real Madrid has the makings to be one of the most exciting and intense finale in quite some time. There are far too many storylines to touch on without writing a novel, but some of the more important ones revolve around some of the finest players to ever grace a soccer pitch.
Real Madrid's quest to capture their 12th Champions League title has been spearheaded by the lethal finishing of Cristiano Ronaldo, who has had a whirlwind last 12 months. Ronaldo followed up last year's Champions League triumph by leading Portugal to their first-ever international trophy at the Euros, which took place last summer in France. He followed that up by winning the Ballon D'or (Best Player Award) and then wrestling the La Liga title away from Barcelona for the first time in two seasons. For a player who has always been overshadowed by his rival Leo Messi, a win in this year's final could finally earn Ronaldo a little more respect than he is constantly shown.
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However, it's not going to be easy for Real Madrid to unlock one of the stingiest defensive sides I've ever come across. Gianluigi Buffon is a legend and widely considered one of the greatest - if not THE greatest - goalkeeper to play the game. He has backstopped Juventus to six consecutive Serie A titles and has shown no signs of slowing down despite turning 39 this past January. Buffon will be looking capture the elusive Champions League trophy for the first time in his career after losing in 2003 and 2015 to AC Milan and Barcelona, respectively.
Currently, the odds are slightly in favor of Real Madrid at +150. Juventus sit at +175, while the draw option is an enticing +205. If you're a bettor like me who hates getting burned by the tie option, I would recommend taking the -120 on Real Madrid to "lift the cup" or the +100 on Juventus to do the same. The total for this game is set at 2, -155 to the "over". With the amount of attacking options both teams possess, it would be almost impossible to recommend taking the "under" despite the +115 tag.
All odds are courtesy of Bovada .
Tale of the Tape
Juventus: Black and White Striped Home Jerseys.
Italian League Champions and Coppa Italia Champions. Two Champions League Titles.
Real Madrid: Purple Away Jerseys.
Spanish League Champions. 11 Champions League Titles.
Probable Lineup and Formation
Juventus: 4-2-3-1 formation. Buffon, Sandro, Chiellini, Bonucci, Alves, Pjanic, Khedira, Mandzukic, Dybala, Cuadrado, Higuain.
Real Madrid: 4-3-3 formation. Navas, Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, Danilo, Kroos, Casemiro, Modric, Ronaldo, Benzema, Isco.
Defense and Midfield
There are very few teams in the world that are as stingy as Juventus is defensively. They are led by the core trio of Buffon, Chiellini and Bonucci, and in the 42 games Buffon has started they have conceded only 28 goals. Prior to a last-minute consolation goal for Monaco in the second leg of the semifinals, the Turin giants held a 689-minute streak where they conceded no goals. That's an impressive run in any league and it's an even more impressive feat when it's done against the best teams in the world. To make matters worse for opponents, Juventus' wingbacks (Sandro and Alves) have proved to be a revelation this season. Alves almost single-handily beat Monaco, contributing one goal and two assists in that semifinal matchup. Sandro failed to get on the scorecard, but his work rate in both halves is second to none. Further up the pitch, the midfield of Juventus is comprised of two defensive-minded players such as Pjanic and Khedira and three attacking options with Madzukic and Cuadrado flanking Dybala in the middle. Pjanic and Khedira will need to have a solid game, control the tempo and limit the amount of time and space Real Madrid has to maneuver with the ball.
On the flip side, Real Madrid has a much better midfield trio than they do a defensive backline. Los Blancos has conceded an absurd 49 goals in 40 games when Navas starts in goal. They've only kept seven clean sheets. And despite world class players like Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in the heart of the backline, the team's defensive systems are severely flawed. Ramos has a knack for making one or two mistakes per game, but he seemingly always makes up for them in the offensive half with a big goal or assist. His teammate, Marcelo - widely regarded as one of the best wingbacks in the world - will wreak havoc down the left-hand side. He has the ability to push the ball up field and the talent to make dazzling runs or pick a superb pass. The midfield for Real Madrid is controlled by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, both of whom are vital parts to both club and country success. They will need to have a solid game and pick the right passes against a Juventus defense that can quickly turn an intercepted pass into a high-octane counter attack.
For those who follow domestic and international soccer on a regular basis, you will already know that Gonzalo Higuainis is often lazy and unable to score in the games that matter (see 2014 World Cup Final against Germany). Higuain missed a slew of chances in regulation and Argentina ultimately lost the game in extra time. When Juventus lured him away from Napoli on a big-money contract, most Juventus supporters had nothing but negative things to say about the deal. Higuain quickly shut them up and proved his worth by scoring 32 goals in 53 games. He put to rest his "unable to deliver in big games" rep by scoring two against Monaco, which all but guaranteed Juventus' trip to Cardiff for this Final. His teammate, Paulo Dybala, is gaining superstar status with every big game he plays in. The little Argentine stands all of 5-foot-9, but his creativity on the ball and knack for turning nothing into something has him linked to other massive clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester United. Dybala is only 23, and if Juventus ever feel the need to cash in on him then he would break the transfer-fee record. Until then, Juventus are reaping the rewards and are hoping the two Argentinians can produce some magic and lead the Old Lady to victory.
Real Madrid's most lethal attacking option needs no introduction. Ronaldo poured in 25 goals in 29 games in La Liga and has added 10 goals in 12 Champions League fixtures. His hat trick in the first leg of the semifinals against Atletico Madrid was CR7's second hattrick in as many CL games and his eighth goal over the last three such fixtures. The most impressive part of Ronaldo's scoring ability is that he does it in a variety of ways. He can beat you off the dribble and unleash a rocket, or he can likely jump higher than the opposing center-backs and score a header goal and he also has the soccer IQ to poach a few goals from the six-yard box. His teammate, Karim Benzema, has had a down season for his standards, scoring just 16 goals in the CL and La Liga combined. His presence in the middle of the attacking line draws defenders towards him, which allows both wingers (Ronaldo and either Isco or Gareth Bale) to run at defenders in a one-on-one situation.
At the end of the day, this Champions League Final has the makings to be an instant classic. On one side, you have a high-scoring, free-wheeling Madrid team who knows they can probably outscore you to win games, while Juventus boasts one of the best defensive units (including goalkeeper) in the world today.
Prediction: Juventus 2 - Real Madrid 1.
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