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The biggest event on the footballing calendar is drawing close, and we’re at the last stop on the road to Berlin. With excitement coming close to fever pitch, we at Outside of the Boot decided to get a closer look at the challenges and opportunities each team will face at this stage. Here are the opinions of two of our writers.

UCL Real Madrid

What were/are your expectations out of this season’s Champions League campaign? 

Miran Saric: At the start of the season, my expectations were a minimum of a semifinal berth and possibly a half-decent shot of a repeat should everyone stay healthy. During the imperious 22 match win streak, my expectations rose to a repeat but following Luka Modric’s injury my hope right now is simply making the final and then seeing what Ancelotti’s men can do once they’re there.
Ali Al-Hassan: Real Madrid went into the Champions League this season as the holders and, therefore, they were expected to cause some damage. Going into this campaign, I really expected a lot and they haven’t disappointed so far. I know this may be a tad difficult for me to prove but I have said it from the first day that we will make the semi-finals for sure and I do expect us to make history this season by winning it again. Los Blancos are a very strong team and they approach the Champions League with a very different type of hunger, which was extremely evident against Atletico Madrid. They want it badly and are only three games away from achieving it.

How confident are you about Real making it to the grand final?

Miran Saric: Given Luka Modric’s injury versus a side reliant on winning their battles in the midfield, I am fairly nervous about this tie. However, Madrid boasts a significant advantage in wider play with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale showing their quality last season versus Juventus, so I remain optimistic about Madrid’s chances to progress. Should Iker Casillas not go into full 2014 World Cup mode whenever Juventus lines up Andrea Pirlo to take a free kick on goal and with Sergio Ramos entering his late season hero mode phase, Madrid should be able to take their chances against a very solid Juventus side and come away the victors on aggregate.
Ali Al-Hassan: I am extremely confident that we will be making it to the final. Don’t get me wrong here, I am definitely not trying to take anything away from a great campaign by Juventus so far, who have proven themselves and are not a team we should underestimate. With that said, it will be difficult and we have to come out with the best possible tactics. I believe that we will be one of the teams in the final of this competition.

More often than not, Juventus deploy two forwards, which is a bit unconventional now. Is 2 vs 2 at the back too much of a risk for Ancelotti, or will he be comfortable facing something like this?

Miran Saric: Madrid’s biggest foil this season has been Atletico Madrid, a side which generally ran a two striker system versus Real Madrid where one striker played deeper and buzzed around the defense while the other stayed further up to hopefully poach a goal however he could. Juventus could opt to do this with Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata, but neither really possess the traits that made Diego Simeone’s men so successful versus Madrid. They can certainly find goals versus Madrid’s back line, but Madrid will certainly fancy their chances versus those two than the attacks that the other semifinalists would’ve brought to the table.
Ali Al-Hassan: Carlo Ancelotti is an Italian manager and that really plays a part in all of this. He knows the teams and he will have his research done for Juventus. Two forwards could pose a major threat but it isn’t something that Ancelotti won’t be able to deal with. He has already proven that he will be very comfortable with changing things around and, who knows? We may even see Sergio Ramos in midfield again on the night! Our defenders have had their fair share of weird and unexpected mistakes but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t more than capable of facing any possible challenge that comes their way. Ancelotti will make sure that they’re aware of the threat and will convey his tactics accordingly.

Could a defeat at this stage actually lead to unemployment for Ancelotti?

Miran Saric: A week or two ago I would’ve said yes, but with the way he thwarted Atletico Madrid, coupled with a seemingly re-energized fanbase, I think his job is safe for at least one more season. Zinedine Zidane is the rumored successor, but his results with the Castilla side don’t inspire much confidence. Jurgen Klopp will be rumored to be an option as well, but he seems like someone wanting a long-term project so it doesn’t look like there are many viable replacement options with a distinguished record to bring to town. That being said, Ancelotti should know that he is fully expected to progress in this tie as Juventus, whether rightly or wrongly, is seen as the weakest of the four remaining sides. Should he fail to win either the Champions League or the domestic league this season, expect next season to be titletown or bust for the Italian.
Ali Al-Hassan: Unfortunately, this is one of the main problems with a team such as Real Madrid. More often than not, we hear that a loss or failure to progress to the next round will lead to the sacking of our manager and, sadly, it’s warranted! We have seen this happen too many times in the past decade or so and therefore, we cannot blame anyone for jumping to these conclusions. Carlo Ancelotti has led Real Madrid to La Decima and is on track for the eleventh as well. I don’t believe that failure to progress will lead to him being terminated or anything but, with a team like Real Madrid, we can never be too sure sadly. So, my main reply here would be that I don’t think the correct course of action would be to let Ancelotti go no matter how this year ends.

Could the lack of a true defensive midfielder in the side adversely affect Real Madrid especially in the absence of Modric?

Miran Saric: If Madrid is forced to run its offense through the middle where Juventus holds the edge, then the absence of a true defensive midfielder when the ball is lost could certainly be felt. However, Ancelotti could opt to use Sergio Ramos in a quasi-DM role to try and combat the likes of Arturo Vidal powering forward. Ideally, Ancelotti will have his men focus on widening the pitch and forcing Juventus’ wide players to dictate play instead of the middle where Juventus will hold the physical edge so the lack of a defensive midfielder likely won’t be as felt when compared to playing a side such as Barcelona or Bayern Munich.
Ali Al-Hassan: The lack of a true defensive midfielder has hurt Real Madrid in the past and we have seen how influential Luka Modric is whenever he’s on the pitch. I don’t think that this will be a major problem against Juventus though as our backups are quite capable of dealing with the threats. With that said, the midfield have to be at their best and any mistakes could lead to disastrous consequences. If we perform like we did against Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals, I think that we will be able to beat Juventus on the night.

Finally, if you were handed a TitanBet May 2015 promo code, which team would you back?

Miran Saric: I think Juventus will prove to be more difficult than many Real Madrid fans think as they have quality in all aspects of the pitch and a manager who is capable of providing enough tactical surprises to give Ancelotti’s men a challenge. That being said, Madrid’s superiority on the wings could prove to be too too much to handle for Juventus’ wingbacks and the loss of Paul Pogba will make things run just a little bit smoother for Madrid. Look for a one or two goal aggregate victory for Los Blancos.

Ali Al-Hassan: I’m not someone who particularly enjoys predicting Real Madrid matches but, as I have mentioned, I expect Real Madrid to qualify for the final and I think that we will be able to beat Juventus. All that I’m willing to predict now is a draw in Italy and a win for us in Spain.

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