(Photo Courtesy of Auto Ronaldo)
Zac Hirschbeck previews and predicts today’s Champions League semifinal matchup between Juventus F.C. and Real Madrid C.F.
Juventus F.C. vs. Real Madrid C.F.
Projected Starting XI
Juventus – (4-3-2-1) Gianluigi Buffon, Patrice Evra, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Roberto Pereyra, Alvaro Morata, Carlos Tevez.
Real Madrid – (4-3-3) Iker Casillas, Marcelo, Raphael Varane, Pepe, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco.
As one would expect, the final four clubs in this year’s Champions League are among the worlds best.
Juventus’ path to this matchup has been a fairly straightforward one. After finishing second to Atletico Madrid in Group A, the Italian giants drew a beat up Borussia Dortmund squad and dispatched Jurgen Klopp’s side 5-1 on aggregate. In the quarterfinals, a single first-leg goal from the penalty spot proved enough as Juventus edged the young French upstarts from Monaco 1-0 on aggregate. By winning each matchup in drastically different fashion, Juve proved its ability to adapt it’s style based on the opponent. While the Italians have relied heavily upon their defense to boost its European and domestic success, the Serie A champions also proved capable of creating and finishing offensive chances.
Meanwhile, Real, who won last year’s Champions League, will hope that they will have the opportunity to repeat as winners for the first time since A.C. Milan won the competition consecutively in 1988-89 and 1989-90. Much like their foe, Real has mixed high-powered offense with sturdy defensive efforts on their way to the semis. After winning all six of their group stage games, the Spanish side beat Schalke 5-4 on aggregate, and Madrid rivals Atletico 1-0 on aggregate. In order to continue their European run this season, Real will have to continue to cope with the absence of two of the club’s key contributors.
Deep-lying playmaker Luka Modric and center forward Karim Benzema will both miss out on the first leg because of injury, and while both players fail to receive similar plaudits as some of their teammates, both have become vital cogs for Los Blancos. In recent weeks, Carlo Ancelotti has surprisingly turned to Sergio Ramos at holding midfield, and the move has yielded positive results. While Ramos’ play always verges on reckless, his tough tackling and reading of the game has successfully mitigated Modric’s absence. Likewise, Real will never struggle to field a competent attack. Although Javier Hernandez filled the void left by Benzema’s medical woes against Atletico, the return of Gareth Bale from injury will likely push the Mexican striker to the bench. If Bale can continue to shrug off the unbelievably foolish disdain from the Madrid fans, he’ll cause significant problems for Juventus’ outside backs.
On the other side, Juventus will also be forced to field a squad without one of their top players, as Paul Pogba will yet again miss out due to a thigh injury. The lanky Frenchman has drawn the interest of every big club in Europe, and his presence certainly would’ve helped his side’s chances of leaving home with a first-leg victory. However, Juve will still field an impressive midfield trio of the ageless Andrea Pirlo, the tireless Arturo Vidal, and the well-rounded Claudio Marchisio. All three possess an abundance of big-game experience, and all three will undoubtedly be prepared to combat Real’s playmakers, as well as push the ball forward to test their opponent’s backline.
With both sides littered with world-class players, this matchup will likely hinge upon which team is able to finish their offensive chances. While I’d give Gianluigi Buffon the edge over his veteran counterpart Iker Casillas in net, I’d just as quickly favor Madrid’s attack over Juve’s. Though it’s always easy to admire Carlos Tevez’s industry, he fails to boast the legendary scoring ability of Cristiano Ronaldo. With 42 La Liga goals (including a hat trick over the weekend against Sevilla), and an additional eight tallies in 10 Champions League games this season, Ronaldo can single-handedly swing a game with a few inspired moments. If the 30-year-old finds room to maneuver in Juventus’ defensive third, the Portuguese forward won’t hesitate to bury his opponents prior to returning to the Bernabeu for the second leg.
Real Madrid C.F. 2 – Juventus F.C. 0