History beckons for Real Madrid on Saturday as they attempt to become the first team to defend the UEFA Champions League trophy and I think they’ll do it – here are five reasons why.
This will be no straight-forward affair. The UEFA Champions League is Europe’s, and arguably the world’s, premier club competition that is designed to see the best take on the best.
And that is exactly what the final is. Spain’s 2016/2017 domestic champions against Italy’s 2016/2017 domestic champions. Forget the brave Leicester City, the stuttering FC Bayern Munchen, the volatile Barcelona and forget the ever-improving Monaco and PSG – today is about Real Madrid vs Junventus, champions vs champions.
It goes without saying that predicting a game of this stature is no easy feat, but here are five reasons why I believe Real Madrid will get it done.
1. The venue
The final will be played at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.
The Real Madrid fans are known for their hostility towards their own players when they are not performing to the level that their enormous salaries and transfer fees suggest that they should be.
Consequently, playing in front of their home fans is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it can be a burden, on the other it can be a great source of motivation. However, in a game of this magnitude, the Real Madrid players will need no absolutely no extra motivation from anyone. So playing away from home will suit them more than it will Juventus.
There will be Real Madrid fans in Cardiff for sure but there will be an even number of Juventus fans and a few neutral supporters.
The players will know that a miss-directed pass or a scuffed shot will not be booed by 81’000 people as it would be in the Santiago Bernabéu.
I believe that this will free-up the Real Madrid team to really express themselves and showcase their immense talents. And that is largely what they are about, attacking flair and goal scoring ability.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Need I say more? 25 goals and six assists in La Liga this season as well as 10 goals and five assists in the Champions League are serious numbers. But let’s not get into statistics (not just yet).
The reality is this guy is a match-winner who is fuelled by big occasions.
I don’t expect there to be a shortage of chances for Real Madrid but if Juventus’ much-vaunted defence is successful in slowing the game down and reducing the space in front of their own goal, then Ronaldo is certainly someone capable of producing a moment of magic that no defensive line can deal with.
Do Juventus have that same x-factor? I’m not convinced.
3. The contrasting footballing ideologies favour Real Madrid
It’s no secret that when a Juventus team is successful they are heavily reliant on an organised back-four and a rock-solid shot-stopper. In Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Dani Alves and Alex Sandro they have just that.
On the contrary, it’s also no secret that when a Real Madrid team is successful they are spear-headed by a potent attacking threat. In Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Isco or Gareth Bale, Luka Modrić, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo they have just that.
However, I do not believe these vastly different approaches and styles will simply cancel each other out and make for an evenly contested game.
Juventus will sit back and invite Real Madrid onto them. I foresee the Spanish team’s attacking prowess to be too good not to score and I’m not sure Juventus have the ability to chase the game if they fall behind.
4. The fearlessness of youth and Zinedine Zidane
We have this idea that finals need to be tight, cagey affairs. It would take a brave manager to be bold and to try and disrupt that trend by playing gung-ho football in a game where so much is at stake.
I do not believe that Zidane will go to that extent. However, at just 44-years-of-age and having hardly experienced any pain in his managerial career to date, I am confident that the French mastermind is more likely to take the risks needed to win a final than his Italian counterpart.
Massimiliano Allegri’s managerial career has been littered with heartbreak in the UEFA Champions league and those scars could well lead to the wrong decisions being taken in the final.
5. By the numbers
Now it’s time to turn to statistics.
In the 2016/2017 Champions League, Real Madrid have scored 32 times. Juventus have scored just 21 times.
Real Madrid have won the Champions League/European Cup 11 times. Juventus have won it just twice.
Real Madrid have won all five of their UEFA Champions League finals, while Juventus have lost in the final more times than any other club – four.
Convinced yet? Surely.