Can Juventus contain Ronaldo? Where the Champions League final will be won and lost

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With Real Madrid having seen off city rivals Atletico to set up a Cardiff showdown with Juventus, Goal's Peter Staunton looks at the key head-to-heads


GOAL COMMENT

It’ll be Real Madrid joining Juventus in Cardiff on June 3 for the Champions League final, after Zinedine Zidane's men survived a first-half fright at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday to overcome Atletico in the semi-finals.

Real recover from early Atletico scare

The 11-time winners and current holders will be looking to break a 27-year historical jinx by retaining the trophy, while Juve are without a win in this competition since beating Ajax 21 years ago.

These are the two best team in Europe by far and so an eagerly-anticipated match-up awaits...


CAN JUVENTUS KEEP RONALDO QUIET?

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar rattled in 18 of Barcelona’s 26 Champions League goals between them before encountering the brick wall that is the Juventus defence. Barcelona were eliminated 0-3 on aggregate by the Old Lady after two legs which featured some of the best collective defending – and shot-stopping – that you are ever likely to see.

However, Real Madrid possess something that Barca don’t – Cristiano Ronaldo.

While the debate will rage on over who is the greatest – the Portugal captain or Messi – there is no doubt that Ronaldo has eclipsed his great rival in this season’s Champions League.

Mike Tyson had a famous saying regarding strategies and tactics in boxing: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." Well, it’s been that kind of season in the Champions League knockouts for opposition defences trying to deal with Ronaldo.

Real suffer worst ever CL start

Goalless for six months and again facing accusations that his best days were behind him, Ronaldo has roared through the last two rounds at ferocious speed. He scored seven goals in three matches against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, netting back-to-back hat-tricks into the bargain.

A gameplan is all well and good but neither Bayern, including the world’s best goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, nor Atletico, with their expertly-drilled defensive system, could cope with the world’s greatest centre forward – Ronaldo 2.0.

If he can get free of Juve’s attention and see the whites of Buffon’s eyes, that could be enough to put distance between the holders and Juventus. The ball will bounce around the area at least once with Ronaldo in close proximity; Juve can only pray he doesn’t put his shot on target.


WILL JUVENTUS WIN THE BATTLE OF DEFENCES?

Gigi Buffon Juventus Monaco Champions League

This week, Kylian Mbappe became the first player to score against Juventus in the knockout stages. In fact, before the teenager's strike, the Italian champions had not had their lines breached at all since November’s group-stage clash against Sevilla.

Gianluigi Buffon has kept eight clean sheets in the competition to this point – more than any other goalkeeper – and his side’s ability to keep opponents scoreless has been a huge factor in helping to defeat every knockout opponent by at least three clear goals.

Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have been impeccable thus far, while Max Allegri has either filled the spots around them with another centre-back in Andrea Barzagli – or more orthodox full-backs in a flat back four. Whatever shape Juve take, they are drilled to the point of fluency.

Madrid match incredible Bayern record

Dani Alves and Alex Sandro have been imperious on the flanks, adding an extra attacking dimension for good measure.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, are more haphazard at the back. The clean sheet Keylor Navas kept against Atletico Madrid in the semi-final first leg was the first Real have kept in Europe since beating Manchester City last season. Their key defenders, captain Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, have been more important at the other end, delivering goals and assists.

There are no guarantees that Real will get through Juventus’s near-impenetrable barrier and so every chance counts. Juve will feel comfortable in attempting to keep out Real and winning the game through an occasional opening of their own.


WHO WILL WIN THE MIDFIELD BATTLE?

Toni Kroos Real Madrid Champions League

Real Madrid blew Atletico away in the first leg thanks to three goals from Ronaldo but there was so much more to an utterly comprehensive victory than just the finishes the Portuguese provided.

Zinedine Zidane continues to be underrated but his subtle tweaks to the Real system gave his team the initiative against Diego Simeone's side in that first game. 

By allowing Isco to stray he gave Real numerical supremacy whenever they needed it in possession and created overlaps on either side where Dani Carvajal and Marcelo could benefit.

Not only that, but with the skills of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, Real locked down the midfield. Add in the balance brought to the team when out of possession by Casemiro and you have the closest thing you can get to perfect balance in the middle.

The curse Real must break

It was a different story in the Calderon but while Real were hit with two early goals, they managed to wrest control of the encounter thereafter. 

While Juve will be happy to cede the ball to Real for large spells, they have got to make sure they see enough of it themselves to prevent Real from gaining a tactical advantage. If Real keep the ball all night, then logic would dictate they will eventually find a gap somewhere. Plus, chasing all evening will leave Juve exhausted and unable to feed their own front lines when opportunities arise.

Juve might be more comfortable than Real are on the back foot but they have to ensure they don’t willingly surrender the initiative and should ensure they stay as close to 50-50 in the ball possession stakes as they can.


CAN HIGUAIN OUTGUN BENZEMA?

Gonzalo Higuain Monaco Juventus Champions League

While Ronaldo has garnered all the attention, the focus has been off Karim Benzema and his truly shocking 2017 goal record to date.

There is no question that the Frenchman is an effective foil for Ronaldo and Gareth Bale – if fit – but question marks again abound over his ability to lead the line. He has been more of a team player this season - contributing in the build-up - and his approach play for Isco's goal in the second leg was a good illustration of this. 

When it comes to being in front of goal for himself, he has snatched at chances, looked uncomfortable up top and provided plenty of ammunition for critics who demand he’s replaced.

Dani Alves' incredible final record

Meanwhile, the man who made way at Santiago Bernabeu in order to hand the shirt definitively to Benzema is beginning to thrive for Juve in Europe. Gonzalo Higuain was signed to make the difference in the Champions League and took to life in Turin with relish following his controversial move from Napoli.

He has plundered 24 goals in Serie A and finally found his feet in continental competition for good measure. Glory belonged to him in the first leg against Monaco, having struck twice, and he is shaping up to be a key player in the final too.

The big test will, of course, be the big chance and what he does with it when it inevitably comes his way. He is in confident touch at the moment and would dearly love to put one over his former employers.


WILL ZIDANE’S SUBS WIN IT LATE ON?

Alvaro Morata Deportivo Coruna Real Madrid LaLiga 26042017

A tight game is expected and the longer it remains goalless the more comfortable Juventus will be. However, if Zidane turns to his bench for inspiration, he will find a lot more there than Allegri has in store.

Ex-Juventino Alvaro Morata has scored 20 goals in all competitions for Real this season despite playing only half the minutes and not very often as a starter either. He has scored three goals in the Champions League – all as a substitute for that matter - while no other player in the competition has scored more than one as a reserve.

One of those is Marco Asensio, who is growing into his role as Real’s next big thing and starred from the bench against both Bayern and Atletico, netting a goal and bagging an assist for good measure in those games.

Why the hell did Barca let Alves go?

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All in all, Real have scored six of their 31 goals through substitutes - more than any other team in the competition. Along with Morata and Asensio, Benzema and Lucas Vazquez have found the net from the bench. 

If Bale is fit, then the chances are Isco will complete Zidane’s embarrassment of riches in reserve. Juventus can’t compete with that. Their first XI is top class but that depth doesn’t stretch to the bench like Real’s does.

Juan Cuadrado could be useful running at the defence in the latter stages, while Claudio Marchisio could help gain control in midfield. Beyond that? Not much. This is an area where Real have a huge advantage.

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