Real Madrid will seek to become the first team in the Champions League era to win back-to-back European Cup trophies when they take on Juventus in this year’s final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday (19:45 BST, live on BT Sport).
The bookies are finding it hard to split the teams but a look at the odds from the UK’s top online bookmaker, Bet365, shows Real Madrid as marginal favourites to lift the trophy at 17/20, with Juventus a shade under evens at 19/20.
The Spanish giants are the most successful team in the history of the European Cup, with their record of 11 triumphs putting them four clear of the nearest challenger. But even they have been unable to successfully defend their crown in the 25 years since the name and format of the competition was changed back in 1992.
Real Madrid defeated city rivals Atletico Madrid in last year’s final to win the trophy for the second time in three years. Zinedine Zidane added to his triumph in the competition as a player in 2002 by securing the first trophy of his coaching career just five months into the job. It was not, however, the most convincing of campaigns. Madrid had a fairly easy path to the final, which they won on penalties in a match that Atletico edged.
The same cannot be said of this season’s run, in which Madrid have dispatched Napoli, Bayern Munich and Atletico en route to the final. Having recently delivered the club’s first league title in five years, Zidane now has the chance to make history as the first coach to win back-to-back Champions League trophies.
Zidane continues to be questioned in some quarters, largely because his side don’t have a particularly strong collective playing identity, but he has a good relationship with the players and has managed the campaign well, taking full advantage of a squad brimming with talent. Convincing Cristiano Ronaldo to sit out matches earlier in the season has paid dividends: he has scored 14 times in his last 10 matches in all competitions.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]UK’s top online bookmaker, Bet365, have Real Madrid as marginal favourites[/quote]
The main selection doubt for Madrid ahead of Saturday’s final is whether Gareth Bale will come back into the side after injury. Isco performed superbly in his absence in the semi-final win over Atletico, providing Luka Modric and Toni Kross with additional support in weaving the ball through midfield, and will feel he has done enough to start in Bale’s stead.
Juventus have presented themselves as the underdogs in the build up to the final but are a very good team and are capable of making it a competitive and intriguing encounter. With the Italian Cup and a sixth consecutive Italian league title already in the bag, they are now hoping to complete a treble by going one better than they managed in 2015, when they lost in the final to Barcelona.
Indeed, it is impressive that Juventus are back in the final just two years later considering how much the team has changed in that time. Six of the starting line-up from 2015 have since left the club, including Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba from the midfield and both Alvaro Morata and Carlos Tevez up front. Money has certainly been spent but the degree to which the reconstruction has worked out is nevertheless noteworthy.
One thing that hasn’t really changed is the identity of the pillars of the Juventus defence. Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are still key elements of a back-line that has performed particularly well during the knock-out stages of this year’s competition. Max Allegri’s side dispatched Porto, Barcelona and Monaco en route to Cardiff and did so whilst only conceding once over the course of the six matches.
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At the other end of the pitch, the Italian side can count upon one of Europe’s finest attacking partnerships in the form of Argentinians Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain. Given increased freedom to drift and link play, Dybala has flourished, while Higuain has continued to score prolifically following his move from Napoli. Between them, they’ve notched 51 goals in all competitions. Dybala saw off Barcelona; Higuain did for Monaco.
Juventus have a sturdy defence, bright attack and good balance throughout the side, with a pair of Brazilian full-backs in Dani Alves and Alex Sandro who provide different yet complementary attributes on either side of the pitch. Madrid are not as cohesive as a unit but they have plenty of individual talent and a winning mentality in this competition that often drives them to success even when they don’t perform at their best.
A quick start, such as the one they produced against Barcelona in the quarter-finals, would give Juventus the best possible chance of lifting the trophy but it is still hard to bet against Real Madrid eventually coming through to claim their 12th European Cup.