Massimiliano Allegri led Juventus to the Champions League Final two years ago, only to be defeated by Barcelona. He will hope to avoid the same fate against another Spanish giant, this time Real Madrid. Here’s how he can lead his side to victory.
Repeat the semi-final strategy
Against Monaco, Massimo Allegri fielded a cross between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1, the former being used when Juventus have the ball.
Giorgio Chiellini has once again been a beast in Champions League and always rises to big games, as we saw from his performances for Italy at the Euros. Both internationally and for Juve, Chiellini will be ably supported by timeless stopper Gianluigi Buffon plus fellow centre-backs Leanardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, who retains reasonable pace at 36.
Barzagli shuffles across to right-back when possession is lost. That signals the transition to 4-2-3-1, with Dani Alves pushing further up and the left-sided Alex Sandro dropping back to complete a four man back-line. These switches must be delivered with the tactical awareness we saw from Bianconeri in the semi-final, which they won 4-1 on aggregate.
Keep it tight
It has proven remarkably difficult to press Real Madrid effectively. The Spanish giants boast the most intelligent midfielders in world football including Luka Modric, who controls play and Isco, who is more commonly found in the final third. Their players spot gaps quickly and makes perfect choices in possession, meaning Los Blancos can always initiate one-touch breakaways. With all Juventus’ centre-backs in their 30s, they may not want to be exposed to quick attacks, so the gap to midfield should be small. No matter how much technical talent Juventus’ players have shown this season, the priority in this game will be correcting what they do out of possession. This is a game where the team comes before the individual.
Stick a man on Kroos
Toni Kroos deserves a chapter of his own, such is his remarkable skillset. The midfielder is in the top 10 of the WhoScored statistics for pass completion ration (93.5%) and key passes per game (2.8). Given that key passes generally require an element of risk, that is a hugely impressive return and speaks volumes for the German’s control and accuracy. Forward Paulo Dybala may be asked to track back and ensure Kroos is not given too much space, because asking a midfielder to close him down would risk opening gaps in more advanced areas.
Keep an eye on that number 7
There are whispers that the athletic Portuguese lad for Real Madrid is rather good. 106 goals in 103 Champions League games for the club would seem to back up that theory. Sami Khedira, for five years a teammate of Cristiano Ronaldo, may be the right man to attempt to quell his threat. The German is likely to be fit for the final after recovering from his leg injury and should be asked to mark Ronaldo when the team loses possession. His defensive qualities including height make him the best option for a difficult task, because asking a centre-back to mark Ronaldo risks opening gaps in dangerous areas.
Be thankful Madrid are in purple
Ronaldo’s budding potential will be tested further, now he’s playing without his trusty white shirt. That has been a lucky charm for the Madridistas, who have enjoyed 10 of their 11 European triumphs in white. 23 of the previous 61 winners wore white when lifting the trophy but this time the Spaniards will be forced to wear purple on Saturday as Juventus sport their favoured black-and-white kit. If the Galacticos don’t perform in a different colour, we’ll know what made Di Stefano and Zidane tick in those finals!
Pass from deep
Zidane’s latest big decision as a manager is whether to allow Juventus to play out from the back: if he does, Bonucci could be a key weapon for the Italians. Although prone to occasional lapses in concentration this year, the 30-year-old remains a strong defender and is the best passing centre-back of the three. Bonucci may be tasked with carrying the ball out to create space for Miralem Pjanic, who will look to do a similar job to Kroos of Madrid. Pjanic must be disciplined without the ball but his technical ability has shone through in this competition with three assists and two key passes per game. Both should attempt diagonal balls towards Mario Mandzukic…
Hit Mandzukic early
The 31-year-old has been Juve’s unsung hero this season, with key contributions both offensively and defensively. He works hard in every game and has underrated technical ability, but his biggest trait is his aerial ability. The Croat has won 3.5 aerial duels per game in the Champions League – more than any other left-sided forward. He has a height advantage over prospective opponent Danilo, who has lost 19 of his 49 aerial duels so when Juventus have the ball, Mandzukic should target the right-back. That would either allow Bianconeri to get some possession in front of Madrid’s centre-backs, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, or force the latter out of position. Either of those eventualities would then make space for Dybala to create and for Gonzalo Higuain to show his predatory instincts.
Have a back-up plan
Allegri has depth in defence and midfield, but one weakness in his squad is a shortage of attacking players who can change a game from the bench. While Real Madrid have scored nine goals in the last 15 minutes of Champions League matches this season, Juventus have only scored four. They tend to get the bulk of their work done early then manage proceedings, but this encounter will be tight and may require a Plan B.
With their most used attacking substitute, Marco Pjaca, out injured, that secondary plan could involve speedy winger Juan Cuadrado. The Columbian has just signed on a permanent deal and started the last six Serie A games. However, he may be dropped to the bench so that when Juve need quality re-enforcements, Allegri has somebody to call upon.