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The Big Match Tactical View: Juventus v Real Madrid

Gonzalo Higuain will be determined to punish former club Real Madrid
Gonzalo Higuain will be determined to punish former club Real Madrid

It's the Italian champions against the Spanish champions in Cardiff. Michael Cox looks at the tactics and Alan Thompson provides the betting lowdown.

"Juve’s primary task is to stop Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in the air."

Juventus v Real Madrid
Saturday 19:45, BT Sport 2 / BT Sport Showcase.
Match Odds: Juventus 3.052/1, Real Madrid 2.89/5, The Draw 3.211/5.

Real Madrid travel to Cardiff looking to become the first team to defend the Champions League in the modern era - but coach Zinedine Zidane has a huge decision to make about a man who knows Cardiff better than most, Gareth Bale.

Proud Welshman Bale has been struggling badly with an ankle injury in recent weeks, and in his absence Zidane has fielded the majestic Spanish playmaker Isco in his place. Except, it hasn't literally been in Bale's place. Isco has played, effectively, as part of a midfield four rather than a front three, drifting around to link midfield and attack. He's arguably been Real's best player recently.

Zidane would therefore face a huge decision if both were 100% fit - Bale is Real's most expensive player, Isco has been their outstanding performer recently. Knowing the politics at Real, Bale would be more likely to start. But he seems significantly short of full fitness, and that means he might be restricted to a supersub role here. Real, however, might benefit.

Otherwise, there are very few selection decisions for Zinedine Zidane coming into this match, as his starting XI is well-established. In defence, Dani Carvajal has returned to full training but seems unlikely to be selected ahead of Danilo, who has done well in recent weeks.

Casemiero will shield the back four, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead of him. Cristiano Ronaldo will probably start as more of a forward than a left-winger, effectively forming a front two with Karim Benzema.

Juventus coach Max Allegri has very few dilemmas in terms of selection. We can be almost certain that his starting XI will be: Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Daniel Alves, Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira, Alex Sandro, Paolo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain.

However, we can't be certain what formation Allegri will use. Indeed, Juventus are so tactically flexible that Allegri sometimes deploys a system that looks like a three-man defence, a four-man defence and a five-man defence at different points in the same match. Alex Sandro can drop to left-back with Barzagli sliding across to the right, and Alves pushing forward. Mandzukic has shown incredible discipline to play on the left flank this season, which allows Dybala to play as a number 10.

However, it seems more likely that Alves and Sandro will look more like wing-backs, playing either side of Juventus' old-school three-man defence. Mandzukic will play to the left and Dybala will start on the right, with both drifting inside to open up space for the rampaging Brazilian wing-backs.

Juve's primary task is to stop Ronaldo and Benzema in the air. Although Juventus are traditionally very good at penalty box defending, they didn't look very comfortable in this respect in the second leg of the semi-final against Monaco, and considering Ronaldo's amazing form in the knockout stages of the Champions League, it's difficult to imagine that he won't get a couple of good chances in the air. Juve might need to defend upon Buffon.

Real will almost certainly dominate possession, with Isco overloading the midfield zone. However, they will depend heavily upon their full-backs for width, and Allegri might be confident that Alves and Sandro can stop Marcelo and Danilo - an all-Brazilian battle out wide.

Juve will need to excel at transitions. The wing-backs will spring forward quickly, and Dybala will be crucial with his movement between the lines. The late runs into the box of Mandzukic, too, might be absolutely crucial here - in a tactical game, he's among the most intelligent tactical players on the pitch.

I think Juventus are overpriced here - Real are clearly favourites, but Juventus offer tremendous tactical discipline, and I think 3.052/1 represents very good value.

The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson

The Champions League final sees the season’s top scorers Real Madrid against a Juventus side that has only conceded three goals so far. This looks to have all the ingredients for an intriguing final, both sides won their domestic leagues suffering just eight defeats between them (Madrid 3, Juve 5). So will attack or defence come out on top in Cardiff?

Both sides have plenty of experience at this stage, defending Champions Real Madrid are bidding to become the first team to retain the Champions League under its current guise and this is their third final in four years. Juve have won the trophy twice, in 1985 and 1996 but have lost in six finals, most recently against Barcelona. They have met in the final once before, 1998 in Amsterdam, where Real Madrid ran out 1-0 winners.

Juve are unbeaten in this season’s competition winning nine and drawing three of their 12 games so far while Real Madrid have only suffered defeat at Atletico in the 2-1 semi final second leg, winning eight and drawing three of their other fixtures.

When Madrid lost to their city neighbours it halted a 16 game unbeaten run, going back to the quarter-final of last season (a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg). They also have a good record when facing Italian opposition, winning their last four encounters.

Under 2.5 goals looks a good call to me but it looks to be priced about right at 1.715/7, Real Madrid are slight favourites 2.767/4 to take a fourth consecutive Champions League back to Spain, but I am going to side with Juventus at 3.02/1. I think they have been excellent this campaign both domestically and in Europe and I can see them sneaking this in a low scorer.

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