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 three our writers.
What were/are your expectations out of this season’s Champions League campaign?
Eric Wood: Initially, my thoughts were this Champions League campaign would be disappointing again for Juventus. However, Allegri has certainly proven that winning Serie A and competing in Europe is more than doable.
Vishal Patel: Despite their stranglehold in Italy, it was hard to see Juventus making it to this stage of the competition. Despite featuring stars like Pogba, Vidal, and Pirlo in their line up, they haven’t been able to click as a team in Europe. Teams have often beaten them with a combination of pressing and pace. But Juventus may have found the answer this season, as we saw against Dortmund.
Razim Refai: Coming off a strong and solid campaign last season, it seemed Juventus could put a good show in Europe this season. They certainly had the players and the lack of a genuine threat in the Serie A would theoretically favour them in Europe. With this considered, Juventus were expected by most to breeze through the group stages with ease but certainly would raise clouds of doubt as the tournament progressed.
How confident are you about Juventus making it to the grand final?
Eric Wood: It’s not out of the realms of possibility that Juventus make it to the final, but it will be very difficult. Going up against the current European champions is always going to be tough.
Vishal Patel: One would be more inclined to place a betfred bet on Real Madrid, to be frank. But you can’t predict a Champions League semi final just like that. Juventus’ players have the talent, and the tactical know how to get the better of Real Madrid over the two games. Juventus will need to be able to execute their game plans well, and that’s what will decide this tie.
Razim Refai: I’d have to say that the odds are against Juventus but not too significantly. It’s certainly not easy to come out on top against the defending champions but both teams have experienced managers whose mindset and tactics will decide the game. It’s very likely that who ever gets their tactics wrong (barring personal errors in play) will end up out of the competition. It’s a matter of who can outplay the other with resilience thrown in the mix.
Pirlo often struggles in big European games because he’s pressed out of the game. How can Allegri set his team up to create time and space for Pirlo?
Eric Wood: If Allegri wants Pirlo to have a bigger role in games, he’ll need the rest of the midfield to step up and take some of the pressure off their star playmaker. Vidal would be a good choice to draw some of the pressure and try and make it an open game. Then again, going out of their way to assist Pirlo could leave Juve exposed in other areas. Allegri will have to try and gauge whether it’s a risk worth taking.
Vishal Patel: Perhaps focusing on Pirlo isn’t the answer. Marchisio has proved to be an able foil for the legendary midfielder this season, and it might just be a good idea to play through him. It could also be a good trick to play, especially if Real Madrid do have plans for Pirlo, as it could leave him in space. Another option could be to have 2 players in deep positions, rather than the one, so as to make it hard for Real Madrid to press them in this area.
Razim Refai: It’s one of those tactics that is almost certain: mark Pirlo and you can curtail Juventus’ flow. Allegri has to be smart enough to know this is bound to happen and devote his midfield strategies with tactics revolving around Marchisio (for example). Who ever gets selected in the middle of the park for Juventus has to certainly step up for this game.
What have Juventus learned from their two clashes with Real Madrid last season?
Eric Wood: Juve will know from last season that Real Madrid can be clinical and deadly when they want to be. The big story will be if they turn up ready to play. Allegri and his team will know however not to expect the European champions to shoot themselves in the foot. That certainly would be too risky.
Vishal Patel: Given that Conte was in charge of Juventus last season, it’s not a completely true question to ask as Allegri will be the person in charge this time. Having said that, he can still pick up lessons from the two legs in the last campaign. They need to find a workaround if Pirlo gets man-marked, how to handle the threat on the wings, and make sure they exploit the fact that Madrid lack a dominating central defensive midfielder.
Razim Refai: Juventus have to pick up lessons from either previous games with Real: that being, they need to be quick in the final third and secondly, mark Real’s runners in a smart way. Real are capable of soaking up pressure and being devastatingly clinical. They should be pragmatic in committing forward knowing that even if they have a man advantage, with Pirlo hanging back, they can still be beat on pace.
Will Juventus do anything differently with respect to their wide players in order to combat the twin threats of Ronaldo and Bale?
Eric Wood: I think that Gareth Bale has been off the boil enough to make Allegri’s job that little bit easier. Ronaldo will naturally be the big threat they will have to deal with. If Pirlo can get enough freedom to have an impact, then playing a narrow game could be enough to keep both Bale and Ronaldo quiet. But perhaps don’t bet on it with the latter.
Vishal Patel: It might be a good idea to have additional cover out wide, as Ronaldo and Bale are quite excellent, but are very ably backed up by the full backs, who often do the damage in the wide areas. At the same time, Juventus look settled in the diamond that they’re currently playing. Keeping that in mind, it might be a good idea to have the forwards get to the full backs when Juventus are out of possession. It’s probably a good way to keep the play in the middle too.
Razim Refai: Juventus have to make sure to negate the threat from the wide areas, not only from Ronaldo and Bale but also from the full backs. With 3 at the back and 2 wing backs, that could provide sufficient cover across the entire width but would the players and Allegri opt for this? We’ll have to watch to find out. Just throwing this out there since we’re on the topic that the wide areas are also the area I feel Real can be exploited rather than down the middle given the attacking nature of the full backs.
Is this Juventus team a bit long in the tooth, especially when you consider the pace in that Real Madrid line up?
Eric Wood: It’s quite possible that the team is a little too old to properly compete for the European title, but they have been able to get this far. Their experience can be useful, but that’s only in the best case scenario.
Vishal Patel: It’s certainly a concern that I have. Real got their goal against Atletico after 178 minutes, and if Juventus don’t pace themselves well, we might just see them fall apart towards the end of the tie. Fortunately for them, they’ve got Serie A in the bag now, so they can rest all their players over the weekend, and focus only on this major tie.
Razim Refai: It’s certainly the area for me which Juventus have the disadvantage. Real have the runners for this style of play. It’s likely that Juventus can be left exposed if they push too high up the field.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men have won four out of five games in Turin in this campaign. Can we expect a positive approach at home or a more tentative approach against Madrid’s quick attack?
Eric Wood: Their strong home performances are one of the few things Juve have on their side heading into the semi-finals, so they have to exploit it and if playing a dull counter attacking game is the way to do it, then that’s what has to be done.
Vishal Patel: Allegri will need to be very careful about how much he wants to commit to attack. Real Madrid can be deadly on the break. At the same time, it’s crucial that Juventus get forward and look to score, especially at home. Striking that fine balance is the key. Juventus could sit back against Dortmund, because Klopp’s side attack relentlessly, but Ancelotti may just look to draw The Old lady out a little. It might be worth a gamble for Juventus to sit back in the first leg, and go for the away goal on the counter in the second, when Real will look to get forward.
Razim Refai: European nights are always defensive minded and at this stage in the competition, it’s more about who makes more mistakes through the 90 minutes. Both teams will be defensive and look for taking advantage on the break. If Juventus decide to make use of the home advantage and be positive, it’s a matter of how adventurous they want to be: pushing too forward can leave them exposed to Real on the counter.
Finally, your prediction for the tie?
Eric Wood: Both legs will have their tense moments, but Juve will probably show their age just enough for Madrid to capitalise. Real Madrid to win 4-2 on aggregate.
Vishal Patel: Sadly, it looks like it will be tough for Juventus to make it to the next round. Real Madrid have pace all over the line up, and one feels that this might be a little too much for Juventus to handle. The likes of Pirlo, Chiellini, and Bonucci are dominant on the domestic stage, but have often fallen short on the European stage for a variety of reasons. I don’t see this pattern changing.
Razim Refai: I don’t see Allegri winning this tactical battle or the Juventus players capable of coping with Real’s runners. Real to progress with a low scoring aggregate tie. Would like to see an Italian side in the final though!