There is no denying that Real Madrid have dominated Group B of the UEFA Champions League. There is also no denying that defending Serie A title holders Juventus have had difficulty finding their form in European play. These two powerhouses will clash in Turin on Matchday seven.
A Real Madrid win would assure them a spot in the Round of 16 and Los Blancos could wrap up top spot if they secure a victory and Galatasaray does not defeat Copenhagen. Juventus will need a victory and a Galatasaray defeat to move into second place in the Group. The two sides met a fortnight ago in the Spanish capital, with Real Madrid coming away with a 2-1 result.
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti was not happy with his team’s performance on the weekend, a 3-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano. Madrid built up a 3-0 lead before Vallecano roared back and dominated play in the second half. Ancelotti was furious after the game saying, “Thinking that when you’re winning 3-0 the game is over is a serious mistake. Defensively, the second half was a disaster.”
Ancelotti favours a 4-2-3-1 formation with Karim Benzema his usual choice as the lone striker. The French International has 7 goals in all competitions and provides strength and power, up front.
The strength of Real Madrid lies in the three attacking midfielders led by one of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar is the leading scorer with 7 goals in the competition, and his 20 goals in all competitions is by far the best with the club. When Ronaldo is a factor, Real Madrid can defeat anyone in the world. His brace against Juventus was the difference in the match, as the Italian side had issues with Ronaldo’s pace and ability. On the opposite side of Ronaldo will be Gareth Bale. The Welsh International started slowly since transferring over from Tottenham Hotspurs in September. But Bale has been finding his form recently, scoring twice in Real Madrid’s 7-3 thrashing of Sevilla a week ago. Another former Tottenham player, Luka Modric is expected to be in the middle of Ronaldo and Bale. The Croatian International is a creative dynamo with options at his disposal. Modric could play a vital part against Juventus, since he will have Andre Pirlo shadowing him. This will be a matchup to watch. Angel Di Maria could also see his way onto the starting eleven. If not, the Argentine International will be used as a super-sub as his versatility makes him a threat anywhere on the pitch.
The recent return of Xabi Alonso to the lineup makes for an interesting decision in the defensive midfield. Could Alonso partner up with Sami Khedira, or will Isco make his way onto the team sheet? The option is also for Asier Illarramendi in a holding midfield spot as well. Whatever Ancelotti decides, this group will have to perform better than they did over the weekend.
The back four has seen some hard times as of late, and they must be better if Real Madrid want to reach the ultimate goal. Centre backs Pepe and Sergio Ramos are usually reliable, but have been inconsistent this season. Ramos in particular still has a knack of going on attack, when he should be back defending. Right back Alvaro Arbeloa is slow afoot and can be taken advantage of down the left flank. It would not be a surprise if Daniel Carvajal gets the call at right back. Marcelo is the likely starter at left back, as Fabio Coentrao is listed as doubtful with an injury.
A changing of the guard for Real Madrid between the sticks. Diego Lopez has supplanted Iker Casillas has the number one keeper for Real Madrid. Ancelotti seems to favour Lopez at this moment and with Casillas falling out of form, Lopez should be the choice for Madrid.
Juventus runs an unconventional 3-5-2 formation that has supporters and observers questioning their tactics. Manager Antonio Conte has stuck with this strategy, even though “The Old Lady” are third in Serie A and third in Group B.
Carlos Tevez usually pairs up with Fernando Llorente up front, but Conte could have a trick up his sleeve. Sebastian Giovinco may move up to the starting eleven as Llorente’s recent form has been off. Fabio Quagliarella is listed as doubtful while Mirko Vucinic is out, both with injury issues.
Andrea Pirlo remains the talismanic figure in the midfield. The 34-year-old has been linked to transfer rumours, but insists he will stay with the Turin side. Pirlo cannot let the talk affect him, and must avoid the distractions from the media and play his usual game. Arturo Vidal’s pace on the right flank is an advantage for Juventus. A bigger advantage could be Paul Pogba’s pace on the left flank. Pogba could be a difference maker, considering Real Madrid’s struggles at right back. Ghana International Kwadwo Asamoah will play a left-wing defensive midfield spot, flanking Pirlo. Stephan Lichtsteiner will miss the match due to injury, so expect either Mauricio Isla or Simone Padoin to be on the team sheet flanking Pirlo’s right.
The suspension of left back Giorgio Chiellini is ill-timed to be sure. It is near impossible to replace one of the best left backs in the world. Either Paolo De Ceglie or Federico Peluso will fill in that spot. Leonardo Bonucci will start at centre back. Bonucci is a premier central defender who will be tested by Real Madrid’s many attacking options. Either Andrea Barzagli or Martin Caceres will start at right back.
Keeper Gianluigi Buffon remains the top keeper and is starting regain his form, with three clean sheets in his last four matches. Buffon will be under considerable pressure from Real Madrid, but he is one of the few keepers on the planet, that can handle the strain.
One advantage Juventus will have is their home stadium. Juventus stadium is a very intimate ground with the crowd right on top of the action. Juventus supporters are considered the loudest in Italy and will be in full throat in this important fixture. This is a must win for Juventus so expect them to go full throttle. Real Madrid have struggled defensively but can score goals to compensate for their liabilities in the back end. Expect desperation to win out as Juventus will need all the points they can muster for the rest of the group stage. In a surprise, Juventus wins 3-2.
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