For the 19th time, Real Madrid and Juventus will face each other in a Champions League match tonight when they step out on to the pitch in Cardiff. This is the second-most played fixture in the tournament’s history, yet only the second time the two giants meet in a final.
Real Madrid, arguably the favourites, enter as the defending champions in chase of their 12th title, and the aim to become the only team to win two successive titles in the Champions League era.
Juventus, meanwhile, have lost in the final more than any other team. In eight summit clashes, the Old Lady has lost six – the most recent being in the 2015 edition when they lost 3-1 to Barcelona.
But a lot has changed, in the last 24 months, with regards to Juventus’ mindset. For starters, the way the Turin club has defended in the Champions League this season can be summed up in two words: truly Italian.
Footballing folklore has often described the Italians as the only ones who make defensive play look attractive. Just over two months back, against Barcelona, Massimiliano Allegri’s side put up a performance that saw them keep a clean sheet in both legs of the quarterfinal. It was a display that saw the two towering centre-backs, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini stand firm in their motive to quell the Barcelona attack – and do it all with great discipline and astonishing style.
Behind them, yelling instructions in a Juventus shirt for the last 16 years, is Gianluigi Buffon, who at 39 years and four months will be the third oldest player to feature in a Champions League final. But it isn’t just the skipper’s vision from between the sticks that keeps the Juventus team from conceding. Against Barca, there was a rare occasion when a player got beyond the defence, Andres Iniesta. Almost from point blank range, the towering Italian casually pawed away a certain goal.
Juventus have conceded only three goals in 11 Champions League matches this term. But the Galacticos will not be easy to defend against. Under Zinedine Zidane’s managerial spell, Real Madrid have developed a renewed hunger for success. It led them to the title last season. A few weeks back, they won the La Liga, and now they defend their crown in Europe.
If Juventus is the team that has conceded the fewest goals this season, Real has scored the most – 32. Cristiano Ronaldo has now become the first player to score over 10 goals in six consecutive Champions League seasons. Together with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, he forges one of the most menacing attacks in European football today.
Records are at stake. Real are looking for the 12th title, Juventus looking to become the ninth team and only the second Italian side after Internazionale Milan (2010) to complete the treble.
A perfectly balanced matchup, eight wins each and two draws between the two teams. The 19th tie will be between Europe’s strongest attack and its stingiest defence. All eyes will be on Cardiff!