Who had this as a realistic UEFA Champions League semi-final as the competition got underway some 9 months ago? Yet, these are two of the historically great teams, and both are previous winners of this competition.
In fact, all four teams involved in the semi-finals are teams who have won this competition — a first in Champions League history. All four teams have combined to lift the trophy some 21 times over the 60 years of the European Cup/Champions League.
That said, these two semi-finals couldn’t be more different in look or feel. If you love yourself a great tactical matchup, tune in on Wednesday. If you love the stars of the game, then the Old Lady vs. Los Blancos is exactly your cup of tea.
One could even call the clash between Real Madrid and Juventus the “hoarding stars” semi-final. It’s something even the Wall Street Journal has pointed out.
Juventus is one side that likes to think of itself as a bunch of highly-skilled artists playing the game of soccer. It shouldn’t be surprising given this quote from manager Massimiliano Allegri:
“Football is not just tactics and schemes,” he said this season in an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica. “It’s a show, a show put on by artists. Here, they want to remove the poetry from football and suffocate creativity.”
However, the reality of Juventus in the Champions League is a team that has been short on creativity and long on defensive prowess. Just look at this past quarterfinal matchup with AS Monaco, where the two teams managed to combine for one goal over the course of the two-legged tie.
That’s not creativity, that’s not artistic grace in any way, shape or form.
Instead, Allegri’s side chose to hunker down, absorb pressure and tempt fate in the home second leg at home. Juve moved on because its defense was brilliant, and it should’ve been, given it features names like Giorgio Chiellini, Patrice Evra, Sebastian Lichtensteiner and Buffon in goal.
However, it was hardly the first time Juve hunkered down in Champions League play this season. Juventus haven’t scored more than three goals in any Champions League match all season, scored just seven in six group stage matches and were blanked three times alone in the group stages.
However, in a round of 16 tie against Borussia Dortmund, Juve busted out for five combined goals over two legs. That showed Juve’s counter-attacking and man-marking style can work against a team that likes to go all out in attack.
That sounds like exactly what Los Blancos likes to do, as they attack hard and love to keep most of the possession as a result. However, they ran in to an Atletico Madrid squad that hunkered down, defended all-out and counter attacked pretty well in the last leg.
It didn’t work out for Atletico in the end, but nearly did if it weren’t for a very late winner in the second leg by Javier Hernandez of all people.
Given the contrast in styles it means both goalkeepers could be keys to victory over the course of these two legs. We could be in for a good one given we have Buffon in for Juventus and Iker Casillas in for Real Madrid.
However, it may be injuries that determine this two-legged semi-final tie. After all, Real Madrid are going to be without stars Luka Modric and Karim Benzima for at least the first leg, and Juve will be missing star midfielder Paul Pogba and defender Martin for at least the same amount of time (if not both legs).
Missing that kind of fire power can really affect a team, and for Juve, not having Martin is especially troublesome. After all, Juve’s defense has to deal with the likes of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez to name a few of the attacking options.
With things being so close between these two star-studded teams, perhaps history could be our guide? It’s actually not much help, as these two teams have met 16 previous times in Champions League play and Real Madrid have eight wins to Juve’s seven victories.
Something will have to eventually give between these two teams, and given their performances along the way in the UCL, we could be in for a drama-filled but goal-lacking tie.
It all adds up to two teams who got to this stage in rather boring fashion, but could still be an intriguing and entertaining affair.