Not many people are backing Juventus to upset a star-studded Real Madrid line-up in Cardiff on Saturday, but there are several reasons why this might be the underdogs’ time to shine.
Real go into Saturday’s final looking to claim unprecedented back-to-back Champions League titles in the modern era, and while the odds suggest they will do just that, Massimiliano Allegri’s men might just be ready to spoil the party.
Don’t believe us? Here are five reasons why Juventus will finish the season as champions of Europe.
1. Defence, defence, defence
It’s an old adage, but it still so often proves true – defence wins titles. A good backline can often lay the groundwork for victory and this season Juve can boast one of the most impregnable defences any top European side has ever assembled.
With Gianluigi Buffon in goal, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci in central defence and Dani Alves and Alex Sandro at full-back, the Italians will feel confident of repelling whatever Real Madrid can throw at them – including one Cristiano Ronaldo.
Consider that Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar combined to score 18 Champions League goals before encountering the brick wall that is Juve in the quarter-finals. In the end, they were eliminated 0-3 on aggregate, nullified by a truly formidable defence.
2. An impressive Argentine double act
Argentine duo Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain may not be as flashy as their Real Madrid counterparts up front, but they’re more than capable of ripping a defence to shreds.
In Dybala, Higuain has found an excellent foil, his pace and movement combining very effectively with Higuain’s clinical finishing. Vitally, the two countrymen have developed a great understanding together up front.
Higuain may be the main goalscorer, having already netted 26 times this season, but Dybala’s double against Barcelona in the quarter-finals proved he can perform on the biggest stage of them all.
Higuain promptly took up the baton in the semi-finals and scored a brace away at Monaco in the first leg to put them in command of the tie.
What more could you ask for from an attacking duo?
3. Massimiliano Allegri
In Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus have one of the most skilled tacticians in the game.
Since taking over from Antonio Conte in 2014, he has guided Juve to the Coppa Italia and League double in his first season, and the league, Coppa and the Supercoppa Italiana in his second.
Now, they’re one victory away from an even more impressive treble.
Allegri has hardly put a foot wrong in Turin. His acquisitions have proven to be astute while selling Paul Pogba for a record transfer price appears to have done the side little harm.
He also sets his team up in a way ideally suited to knockout football. His four-man defence has proven to be a revelation, ably nullifying the most potent of threats and providing excellent support for the midfield. The wingers stretch play out wide, while his attacking duo stay in close proximity to each other. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s highly effective.
4. A highly balanced squad
While Real Madrid may be a more impressive unit man for man, this current Juventus side manages to be even more than the sum of parts.
The foundation of the side clearly starts at the back. The central defensive partnership of Bonucci and Chiellini can rely on one of the greatest keepers in the world in Buffon behind them, while Alves and Sandro are rock solid in support on the flanks.
In the midfield, Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira are more than capable of bossing possession and commanding the centre of the pitch, while the wingers are able to stretch play and are supported by their talented fullbacks, who frequently get high up the pitch.
Dybala and Higuain, meanwhile, are waiting up front to once again unleash their potent partnership on an unsuspecting defence.
Real Madrid can boast a fearsome attack, but they do have some potential gaps to exploit at the back, and Juve seem to line up perfectly to take full advantage.
5. History and the law of averages
Even a side as talented as Real Madrid can not defeat the universal laws, and history suggests this might just be Juve’s year.
No club has won the Champions League twice in a row since AC Milan did it in 1989 and 1990, and while that may not count for much, Real Madrid will need to pull off an unlikely feat if they are to become repeat winners.
Meanwhile, the law of averages suggest that after countless disappointments, lady luck may be ready to bless Juventus with the title. The Bianconeri have one of the poorest record in Champions League finals, losing six of them while winning only two. They haven’t won the tournament since 1996, and will be desperate to turn their fortunes around.
They must surely want it more than Real – a club much more accustomed to European success – and that burning desire could make all the difference.