While the Italian outfit have to win the tie, they mustn't play into the hands of los blancos who thrive on counterattacks...
Under different circumstances, Antonio Conte may have contemplated his approach as he prepared to face Real Madrid on home turf but given that Juventus sit third in their Champions League group with only 2 points from 3 games, he has no option but to go on the front foot against Carlo Ancelotti’s team. A Cristiano Ronaldo brace was enough to defeat the Italians at the Santiago Bernabeu but this time they’ll have to deal with the added threat of Gareth Bale as well.
The Welshman sat out of the earlier fixture due to injury but he has since come back into the side, regained a bit of match fitness and seems to be getting back to his old self in the last couple of games. He’s managed 2 goals and 4 assists in the encounters against Sevilla and Rayo Vallecano, forcing the Spanish media to dramatically change their tune with regard to his start at Madrid.
He had virtually no pre-season this term and his start to this season has been plagued with injuries but now that he seems to have shrugged them off, he’ll only get better.
Given that they need to take the initiative in this game, Juventus’ first problem is that they cannot afford to play their preferred 3-5-2 formation against the pacey attack and lethal counter-attacking threat of Madrid because that would be borderline suicidal.
They did try to stick to their system in last year’s edition of the competition when they came up against eventual winners, Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals but it went horribly wrong as they were convincingly beaten 2-0 in both legs. The devastating wing-play of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery had a huge hand in that as they ran riot in behind Juventus’ wing-backs, dragging their central defenders wide and creating gaping holes through the middle.
If afforded the same kind of freedom, Bale and Ronaldo could also have a field-day against the Turin-based club. That’s precisely why Conte deployed a 4-3-3 formation in the away fixture. The ploy worked reasonably well as they restricted their hosts to only a few chances. However, it may not be quite as solid when they’re chasing the game as they will be this time around.
Juventus' defenders must keep an eye on CR7-Bale
Angelo Ogbonna and Martin Caceres performed excellently in Madrid, the latter in particular kept Ronaldo quiet for large periods in the game despite the fact that the Portuguese managed to score both goals in his side’s 2-1 win. This time however, the full-backs may have to throw caution to the wind in a bid to give the team more of an attacking threat down the flanks.
What will undoubtedly amplify the impact of the rejuvenated Bale, is the return of Xabi Alonso from injury. The experienced Spanish international was a calming influence on the side when he made his comeback as a second half substitute in Madrid’s 7-3 mauling of Sevilla. He followed up that display with a start against Rayo Vallecano against whom he orchestrated the midfield with his vast array of passes and Los Blancos were noticeably less assured after he was replaced.
Madrid's lynchpin in midfield: Xabi Alonso
His influence on the team is palpable and despite a few fine displays from Luka Modric this season, Alonso remains the lynchpin of Madrid’s midfield. He has always proved to be vital on the counter-attack for the team. When on the break, his role is not too dissimilar to that of a quarter-back. With pacey forwards making darting runs ahead of him, he has a knack of picking out the right one with unerring accuracy.
With Bale and Ronaldo breaking their necks to get forward, Alonso won’t be short of options when the opportunity presents itself against Juventus. Apart from his contribution on the counter-attack, Alonso is renowned for his long-diagonal passes into the paths of the wingers, another aspect of his game that the aforementioned duo will look to thrive on.
The Bianconeri are faced with the difficult task of having to find the right balance between attack and defense in a system they’re not all that familiar with. With the pace, trickery and sharp-shooting of Bale and Ronaldo on either flank, you’d expect Madrid to take full advantage if Juventus leave themselves exposed.
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