Juventus v Real Madrid: 5 key Champions League final questions answered by our Serie A and La Liga experts


Dermot Corrigan and Adam Digby are renowned football writers who specialise in La Liga and Serie A respectively. Both have covered Real Madrid and Juventus extensively for Unibet this season and we caught up with them to get their take on a number of issues hovering over the 2016/17 Champions League final.

 

Having played for both teams, what do you make of Real Madrid Coach Zinedine Zidane's mixed loyalties against his former club Juventus?

Dermot Corrigan: The final will be extra special for Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, but there is no doubt around the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu about where the Frenchman’s real loyalties lie.

Ever since Madrid president Florentino Perez’s famously made the then-Juve player an offer during a UEFA gala dinner back in 2000, Zidane’s heart has been with Madrid. “The day Florentino passed me the napkin was one of the happiest of my life,” the former galactico has recalled.

Zidane was of course respectful of his bianconeri past when this year’s final pairing was confirmed. “Juve gave me everything too,” he said. “But in the end you know how this is, I am with Real Madrid now, the club of my life.”

Adam Digby: Not too much to be honest. Yes, Zizou was a fantastic player for Juventus, but he moved on and so did the Bianconeri, the world record fee they received for the Frenchman allowing the club to purchase Lilian Thuram, Pavel Nedved and of course Gigi Buffon.

There are not many people left in Turin that were present when the Real boss graced the famous black and white shirt, although Paulo Dybala has spoken about continuing to wear the No.21 shirt rather than change to No.10 in order to continue the legacy of Zidane and Andrea Pirlo.



With a reputation for failing to deliver in the biggest matches, how do you think perceptions of Gonzalo Higuain will affect the two teams?

DC: Despite his success in Serie A, Gonzalo Higuain is still mostly remembered in Spain for misses in big games during his six seasons at Madrid. The open goal miss as Los Blancos exited the Champions League embarrassingly in the last 16 against Lyon in 2010 is still his most memorable moment from that time.

Displays in major competition finals for Argentina since have only confirmed that impression. Marca even had a ‘10 most catastrophic Higuain misses’ piece last summer. So there was surprise when Napoli agreed to pay around €40 million for his services in 2013, and shock when Juve went to €90 million last summer.

It is fair to say that, even with their defence having looked rocky recently, nobody at Madrid is expecting Higuain to come back to haunt them in Cardiff.

AD: We’ve all see the videos of Higuain fluffing chances for Argentina and Real Madrid, but in truth the striker has looked very, very different since joining Juventus last summer. While the media elsewhere was busy poking fun at his weight, Pipita has become a much more well-rounded player, one who has been crucial to the pressing Allegri has demanded since switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation back in January.

That system has also been hugely beneficial to Higuain, creating a steady stream of chances which he has taken with aplomb. Four goals against former club Napoli this term helped secure the league title and put them in the Coppa Italia final, while the manner in which he celebrated his goal in the Champions League semi-final with AS Monaco showed just how much that goal meant.

So in short, a player who left Madrid with insults ringing in his ears has a chance to hurt them on the biggest stage while burying his own reputation as a choker? That’s exactly what he has already done in Naples this season, and the atmosphere in Cardiff will not be anywhere near as intimidating as the Stadio San Paolo!

 

Another Juventus player with connections to Real Madrid is Dani Alves, and what will the presence of the former Barcelona man mean to both teams?

DC: Dani Alves won 15 of his 27 ‘Clasicos’ during his eight seasons at Barcelona, while regularly confronting 'madridismo' on and off the pitch. While Alves clearly enjoyed stirring the pot, at times the abuse he received was awful, and the Brazilian was right to complain of racist chants aimed his way at the Bernabeu in 2013.

Alves has also had plenty of run-ins with the Madrid-supporting media in the Spanish capital through the years. While he himself has played down the rivalry this month, he is sure to be, understandably, fired up for the game.



AD: The importance of Dani Alves at Juve can’t really be understated at this point. The signing of the Brazilian was part of a huge summer for the Bianconeri, and he was the player Gigi Buffon identified as being able to make the biggest impact.

Despite having won every other major trophy in the sport, the Juve skipper admitted that he could learn from the former Barcelona man, saying that Alves “was used to certain targets” as Buffon looks to end his quest for Champions League glory. If Italian football’s most experienced player sees the wing-back as a valuable asset, who are we to argue?

 

Could “hunger” be the difference between the two sides?

DC: Even before the semi-final second legs had been played, the idea was raised that Madrid were somehow sated by recent success, while Juventus were coming in hungrier having not won the trophy in over 20 years.

Amid this debate, Pedrag Mijatovic, scorer of the winning goal when the teams met in the 1998 decider, told El Larguero radio show that “Juventus are Champions League losers, while Madrid win every final they play.” While Mijatovic was clearly in wind-up mode, there is some truth to this. Madrid have won a record 11 of their 14 European Cup finals, while Juventus have won just two of eight and been runners-up more times than anyone else in the competition’s history. Such a historical record matters more to many Blancos observers than Juve’s form so far this season.



AD: It really could, Juventus have made no secret of their desire to add a Champions League title to their growing collection, while Real Madrid’s recent trips to the final have been well documented. For some players, this could well be their last chance and this version of Juventus seems well-equipped to finally deliver on that promise.

Dermot is right to point to Juve’s poor record in this competition, but it must also be noted that Zidane played in two of the finals the Bianconeri lost, while the Old Lady also got the better of Real Madrid to reach the competition’s showpiece just two years ago.

 

What are your thoughts on the BBC attack v BBC defence?

DC: While Juventus’ midfield and attack might not be too feared around the Bernabeu [see Higuain point above], there is a huge amount of respect for Juventus’ back three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. So much so that most pundits are hopeful that Madrid do not start their ‘BBC’ strikeforce of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the final.

Bale looks likely to be fit for the game, and made decisive contributions in both the 2014 and 2016 final victories, but the feeling is a more balanced and patient approach with Isco in midfield would be best for breaking down Juve’s obdurate back line.

AD: Given Dermot’s answer it is somewhat strange to consider that a few weeks ago it was unlikely Juve’s own “BBC” might also not start the final together. Allegri’s 4-2-3-1 has often featured just Bonucci and Chiellini, but in recent weeks Barzagli has shifted to right-back with Dani Alves occupying a more advanced role and Juan Cuadrado dropping to the bench.

That shift allows the Bianconeri to be more solid in defence, while the dynamic Brazilian ensures that they lose none of their cutting edge in attack. The brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo is simply undeniable, but perhaps the old guard in Juve’s backline would have more to fear from a pacey striker like Alvaro Morata?