It’s the final. Juventus, six-times runner-up and for so long the Champions League nearly men, hope to get their hands on this competition for the first time in 21 years. Real Madrid meanwhile, search for a third triumph in four years as their Portuguese talisman continues to soar to new heights. How will matters unfold in Cardiff – and more importantly, what is the smart money on? We reveal all…
Juventus to score first
Real Madrid have conceded the first goal in five of their six Champions League knockout fixtures. Their defence is fallible, with just one clean sheet in the competition since May 2016. Right-back Danilo could struggle in the air if isolated against Mario Mandzukic while the forward forays of left-back Marcelo may leave gaps. Mobile forward Paulo Dybala could be capable of exploiting those spaces and causing problems for Real Madrid’s centre-back pairing, which is likely to be Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. Gonzalo Higuain, an ex-Galactico who has netted 32 goals in all forms for his new side, is a proven poacher and will be a grateful recipient of any space in or around the box.
Juventus have only let in one goal in the first hour of matches in this competition. They have the brutish Giorgio Chiellini, who is always strong and commanding in the air. Leonardo Bonucci is the most technical defender of the three and could become a key man should Madrid allow their opponents to play out from the back. Partnering those two is Andrea Barzagli, who reads the game well and has good pace for a 36-year-old, who started his career in the Italian fourth tier with Rondinella. He and his fellow centre-backs have become the best in the world, so we should not expect the Turin outfit to give much away early on. Take 11/10 on Juventus to score the first goal – especially if you’re influenced by shirt-colour superstitions, with Real Madrid changing to purple instead of their famous white kit.
Real Madrid to win the second half
18 players have scored in the Champions League for Real Madrid this season, but just 11 have done so for their opponents. Should the big hitters not strike gold immediately, Zidane can bring on other players to provide support and alternative firepower.
After years with Castilla, 25-year-old academy graduate Lucas Vazquez is finally making a breakthrough and now averages an assist per 180 minutes. Averaging a goal every 150 minutes is James Rodriguez, the star of the 2014 World Cup who is hardly a bad player to have in reserve. Then there’s Mateo Kovacic, who has built on early hype as a potentially world-class playmaker with 2.5 key passes per 90 minutes in the Champions League this year. Marco Asensio is another promising young forward who has scored six in this competition, more than anyone bar first teamers Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Had we mentioned those two?
This embarrassment of riches gives Real Madrid the chance to freshen up their forward options without that necessitating a drop in technical quality. Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri may keep Juan Cuadrado on the bench as a possible option to change things around, but that is the only ace up his sleeve. Should Real Madrid be victorious in Cardiff, substitutes in the latter stages could play a massive role. They have scored a remarkable 18 European goals after the interval this year, but are as big as 21/10 to win the second half. The aforementioned trends might also build interest in the 28/1 available on Real Madrid to overturn a half-time deficit to secure the win in 90 minutes.
Top honours for Ronnie
Cristiano Ronaldo has been the Champions League’s top scorer in each of the last four seasons, even if he was forced to share the honour with Lionel Messi and Neymar in 14/15. Though he has Madrid at heart, it would be uncharacteristic for him not to be a little enticed by the task of being the competition’s outright top scorer once again.
To do so he needs two goals, or one to draw level with his Argentine nemesis, so the 6/1 on Ronaldo scoring two or more seems generous. It would have landed in 13 of his 49 games (27%) for club and country this year and three of his last four Champions League matches. Those ties came against top sides in Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich, with the Portuguese forward scoring one hat-trick against each of them. No player has bagged a treble in the final of this competition since the 1960s, when the feat was achieved by Milan’s Pierino Prati as well as two Madrid legends, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas. Those daredevils fancying Ronny to join that list, having already netted six hat-tricks this year, should consider the chunky 28/1 available.
- Juventus to score first at 11/10
- Real Madrid to win the second half at 21/10
- Ronaldo to score two or more at 6/1