Real-Juve ‘totally different’ from Cardiff – Zidane

“We went into the Cardiff game overconfident and that was mistake number one,” Juventus keeperA�Gianluigi Buffon admittedA�ahead of Tuesday’s repeat of last season’s Champions League final against Real Madrid.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side are unlikely to make the same error of judgment when Zinedine Zidane returns to the club, if not the stadium, where he secured his status as the finest player of his generation. Over the course of the past two seasons, the Real Madrid manager has made a pretty decent fist of laying claim to being the preeminent coach in continental competition as well. But if Juve are confident going into the first leg against the reigning champions, they have good reason to be.

Over the past two decades, Madrid hold sway in terms of finals, defeating the Old Lady in Amsterdam in 1997-98 and again in the Welsh capital last season. During the same period, Juventus reign supreme over 180 minutes, knocking out Madrid in the semifinals in 2002-03 and 2014-15 and at the last-16 stage in 2004-05.

Juve’s home form in the Champions League is formidable: the last side to beat the Serie A giants in Turin was Bayern Munich in 2012-13, a 2-0 second-leg victory in the quarterfinals. Juve are unbeaten in 23 consecutive games since then.

Zidane will be well aware that he does not need to crack that seemingly impregnable nut. Real haven’t lost a home game in the knockout stages of the competition since March 2015, when Schalke pulled off a 4-3 victory in the Bernabeu. There will be no lack of confidence on Real’s side about the tie either, although Zidane will approach the opening 90 minutes with a measure of caution.

Second-guessing Allegri’s tactical approach is no easy task, but the Juve boss did perhaps offer a hint of his intentions in the 3-1 win over AC Milan last weekend, when he deployed a 3-5-2. The Italian does not often play three at the back but did so at home against Barcelona in the group stage and became one of only three managers to prevent Ernesto Valverde’s side from finding the net this season.

Juve’s own “BBC” — Andrea Barzagli, Medhi Benatia and Giorgio Chiellini — started against Milan, but Benatia is suspended for the first leg. Daniele Rugani is the most likely candidate to deputise if Allegri goes for a three-man defence, but he also has the option of playing four at the back, as he did against Tottenham, with Barzagli and the fit-again Alex Sandro in the full-back positions.

Real-Juve 'totally different' from Cardiff - Zidane

That is a conundrum that Zidane will not overly concern himself with. With all of his regular first team available, only one question remains: Gareth Bale or Isco? The Real boss has displayed a preference for a 4-4-2 in crunch matches, and that favours the Spaniard, who did not start against Las Palmas last weekend.

The fact that Isco scored twice as Spain beat Italy in a World Cup qualifier with Buffon between the sticks last September is anecdotal but also a consideration: Lionel Messi didn’t manage to finally beat theA�AzzurriA�great himself until a few days later on his fourth attempt.

If Allegri switches his formation in-game to add width, Zidane is perfectly capable of fighting fire with fire. Bale, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez are luxury substitutes to have to hand. All three came off the bench in the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain and played their part in turning a 1-1 draw into a 3-1 victory.

Isco is the natural choice to start, as he did in the crucial second leg in the Parc des Princes, but it is to Cristiano Ronaldo that Zidane will look for goals, which ensures the presence of his favourite foil, Karim Benzema, from the outset. The Portuguese has already scored as many as he did in the entire competition last season and has netted in his past nine consecutive Champions League games, equalling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record.

Ronaldo holds the rare distinction of scoring against Juve every time he has faced them, with seven goals in five matches against the perennial Serie A champions. He has also hit his stride at the perfect moment for Zidane, with 23 goals in his past 13 appearances for club and country.

With his team all but decided in Turin, Zidane’s main problem is managing his back four for the return leg. Sergio Ramos is one booking away from suspension and that will not have escaped Juve’s attention. Every effort will be made to provoke the Real captain and with Nacho ruled out for a few weeks, Zidane could face the prospect of throwing Jesus Vallejo in at the deep end next week, something the Frenchman will not be overly eager to contemplate.

Zidane will therefore call for cool heads in Turin, in front of goal and in trying to prevent them. The atmosphere in the Juventus Stadium will be electric. The Real boss will prescribe enough spark to carry the advantage back to Madrid, but not so much that a Ramos short-circuit hands his opponents a blindingly obvious ray of light in the Bernabeu.

Arnold Njoku

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