In what is for some the standout tie in this season’s Champions League quarter–finals, reigning two time consecutive champions Real Madrid will, for the second time in four seasons, go up against Italian outfit Juventus in the knockout stages of this prestigious tournament.
With Madrid well and truly out of the Spanish title race, coach Zinedine Zidane will undoubtedly have his sights set on a third consecutive European Cup triumph.
However, as Juventus have proven in this competition already this season, they will be no pushovers as they seek retribution having lost two of the last three finals.
In the previously aforementioned two final defeats, Juventus eliminated Spanish opposition along the way on both occasions, eliminating Real Madrid and Barcelona, in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
For Madrid to buck this trend, they must learn not only from their own encounter three years ago, but also from the humiliation and domination their arch – rivals Barcelona endured at the hands of this determined Juventus side last year.
Whilst Real Madrid – who at the time were under the tutelage of Italian head coach Carlo Ancelotti – can consider themselves unlucky to have succumbed to a strong Juventus side, having been eliminated by the margin of only a single goal, Barcelona were well and truly outclassed, due to a clinical defensive display and some ruthless counter – attacking. In truth, the definition of a top Italian team.
What will raise concern for Zidane and Madrid fans alike here is the manner of which Barcelona were beaten.
With their slow, and sometimes sluggish, build-up play down the centre, Barcelona often found themselves swarmed by Juventus midfielders and defenders and were unable to break down their tight, compact defence.
This compactness lead to Barcelona full-backs breaking forward in attack to provide width, which in turn rendered Barcelona helpless on the counter attack when faced with the pace of Cuadrado out wide, and the brilliance of Paulo Dybala when he cut inside on to his wonderful left foot.
Juventus quite simply outplayed Barcelona over both legs, comprehensively beating them 3-0 in Turin, before sitting the majority of their players around their own box at the Camp Nou and holding on for a 0-0 draw.
With Zidane frequently playing a 4-1-2-1-2 formation this season, Real Madrid do not always focus their play down the wings. This may play right in to Massimiliano Allegri’s hands, unless the Frenchman makes some changes.
As Barcelona have already proven this season, playing a 4-4-2 with quick, creative wide midfielders can cause Juventus big problems. Just as Barcelona had Iniesta and Dembélé, the side from the capital have players such as Asensio and Isco.
As Zidane has shown tendencies to utilize a 4-4-2 for big games this year, it will be interesting to see if he uses this to combat the narrow Italian defence.
The one major problem facing Zidane ahead of these two ties is French centre forward Karim Benzema. While Benzema can be ruthless in front of goal, he offers little to no pace up front and has been incredibly out of form so far this season.
If Zidane does indeed make the formation change, expect to see Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo deployed down the centre to cause this slow and aging Juventus defence problems in behind.
With both legs more than likely going to boil down to a tactical battle, and with Zidane not necessarily revered for his tactics more than the man management of his players, the advantage may slightly be in the corner of the Italians.
However, with Cristiano Ronaldo hitting incredible form since the turn of the new year, it is nearly impossible to predict which side will be in the pot for the semi-final draw.