So Real Madrid v Juventus then.
Has there been a more evenly matched Champions League final in living memory? You pays your money and takes your choice. Do you prefer the dogged determination and defensive mastery of Juve? Or the scintillating attacking prowess and offensive guile of Los Blancos? The bookies can barely separate them and recent history can’t either. Indeed, these two European behemoths have met 18 times in European competition and it’s currently eight wins apiece with two draws. I’ve not spoken to them but I’m sure if I did ask Hugo Sanchez or Michel Platini for their predictions for Saturday they would shrug and concur this one is tighter than a gnat’s chuff.
Both teams won their domestic leagues fairly handily, proving to Jose Mourinho and others in the Premier League moaning about the pitfalls of campaigning on several fronts that you can be successful at home and in Europe if you get yourself organised and stop buying s**te for outrageously high transfer fees. Max Allegri is actually on the precipice of completing a historic treble of domestic league, cup and European Cup. Real Madrid stand in their way on Saturday night and this one should have footballing connoisseurs and casual fans alike getting a twinge in their undercrackers.
The bookies have Madrid as marginal 7/4 favourites and you can perhaps see why. They are the defending champions and most side in European Cup history. In Cristiano Ronaldo they possess one of the greatest strikers ever to kick a ball in anger and a player who has scored ten goals and laid on five Champions League assists this season. Ronaldo comes alive in games such as this, but the big question is whether Gareth Bale, who has been off the firm for over six weeks through injury, start for Madrid in his native Cardiff? Zinedine Zidane has a big call to make about Bale, made harder by the fact that his replacement Isco has been excellent in recent weeks.
Madrid took a while to get going in this season’s competition, actually failing to top Group F before hitting the heights in the knockout stages. They brushed aside city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-2 on aggregate in the semifinals and are in great form. They’ve scored goals by the bucketful this season but worryingly have only kept one clean sheet in a dozen Champions League matches.
In stark contrast, Juventus have only conceded three goals in the competition, and just 27 in Serie A. Their fabled defensive line of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, with Gianluigi Buffon behind them, has been the fulcrum to this well drilled team.
The sheer balance this Juventus side possesses is truly impressive. Defensively they are so dominant but the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic give them so many options in the final third. This is a team who blasted Barcelona 3-0 in Turin before keeping a clean sheet in the Camp Nou, remember. After that one Allegri commented “It felt like we could have played for a whole day and not conceded,” and anyone who watched the game would concur that was a fair assessment.
Juventus were supposed to struggle following the departure of Paul Pogba, but they are actually a more rounded and dangerous side now and could be destined to finally lift the trophy this weekend. It could be tight – eight of Juve’s 12 Champions League games this season have featured less than 2.5 goals – but I get the feeling this may be their time. No side has retained the trophy since the Champions League was rebranded back in 1992 so the pressure will be on Madrid.
If Juventus do the business it would be the ultimate justification for the unassuming but tactically brilliant Allegri, whose appointment was so unpopular a few years back his car was spat on and pelted with eggs. I don’t know about being pelted with eggs, but if the Old Lady hold their nerve here Allegri will surely never have to pay for an omelette again in Turin.
Betting: Juventus to win at 2/1 (bet365)
Betting: Under 1.5 goals at 21/10 (Match Book)
Betting: Juan Cuadrado anytime assist at 6/1 (Betfair)