Champions League Quarterfinals Fan Preview: Real Madrid
We’re at the business end of the season, with Real Madrid just recently eliminating one of the Champions League’s favorites PSG with very convincing performances, particularly in the second leg in Paris. Real Madrid practically steam-rolled over the Parisien club and gave them no hope of a comeback, they sent a very strong message to the rest of the clubs left in Europe, the message is that the team to beat in the Champions League is Real Madrid.
Now the next obstacle for Zinedine Zidane’s men is the Old Lady, Juventus, one of the most dangerous and complicated opposition to face over two legs and we saw that against Tottenham Hotspurs. Tottenham completely outplayed Juventus over both of the legs, however Juventus’ experience in the Champions League and their ability to tame the opposition’s offense when they have a result in their favor proved to be suffice to qualify into the quarter final of the tournament, also the fact that Real Madrid have never knocked out Juventus in a two-legged tie in the Champions League will be a source of confidence for the Juventini. However, statistics and facts are thrown out of the window when Real Madrid are in the equation, after all, no club won the Champions League back to back until Real Madrid did last season against Juventus.
Real Madrid’s form has drastically transformed since the beginning of 2018, better football, convincing performances against top clubs such as Valencia and PSG, key players such as Marcelo, Ronaldo, Kroos have regained form, and most importantly, confidence has returned to the players and the fans, especially after the PSG tie. Real Madrid gave a footballing lesson to the Parisien club in the second leg even when Kroos and Modric were sat on the bench (for fitness issues), Zidane set-up his lineup using the flat 4-4-2 formation, in the midfield four the starters were: Asensio, Kovacic, Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez. This setup enabled Real Madrid to press very high up the field, mark the wingers and fullbacks tightly, give no space or time for PSG to start a dangerous build-up, and totally isolate the target man Cavani. Real Madrid looked comfortable and very solid defensively, and their rapid counter-attacks with Asensio and Marcelo on the left flank and Vazquez and Carvajal on the right flank devastated the PSG backline.
Real Madrid were able to penetrate the PSG midfield with ease and cause havoc inside the PSG box throughout the match, and as a result, Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring as usual with his 12th goal in 8 matches in this season’s Champions League. Heading into the first leg in Turin, Zidane faces the same dilemma he has faced various times before, Zidane knows 10 out of his 11 starters for the match, but there is one spot left in the starting eleven and four players are fighting for that spot, Isco, Asensio, Vazquez and Bale.
Against PSG in the first leg, Zidane started Isco ahead of the three, and in the second leg (with Kroos and Modric out), Zidane started Asensio and Vazquez and benched Isco and Bale. This match however, is different than the matches against PSG. Against Juventus, you need players with great technical ability to beat their low-block and man-marking, so in this scenario the players that are best suited for this match are Isco and Asensio. In 2014/15, Gareth had a disastrous performance against Juventus in the first-leg.
Over 90 minutes in the first leg, Bale attempted 18 passes less than even Casillas who attempted 31 passes, Bale had less touches on the ball than Casillas and Buffon. Bale had 0 shots on target, and 0 shots off target. His only attempt at goal was blocked. This was his heatmap:
Vazquez and Bale would a very good option to have coming off of the bench if Real Madrid are leading and there is space to roam into, but since Juventus will start off very defensively and tactically especially since their best midfielder, Pjanic, is suspended for the first leg, the best option is to start either Isco or Asensio in order to break the lines and penetrate their midfield and defense. My ideal lineup is Keylor, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Asensio, Modric, Kroos, Isco, Cristiano, Benzema, but the most realistic lineup considering Zidane’s preferences is: Keylor, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Modric, Kroos, Asensio/Isco, Benzema, Cristiano.
The player to keep an eye out for in my opinion will be Luka Modric, just like in the final in Cardiff, Luka will be the player that orchestrates the speed and tempo of the match, he will be pivotal in the build-up, and his runs to cut between the lines will be crucial, lastly, an aspect of Luka Modric’s that is almost always overlooked is his defensive capabilities, so far this season in the Champions League and La Liga only, Luka Modric has accumulated 34 interceptions, he has won a total of 35 tackles, he has been fouled 34 times and committed 20 fouls, and he has blocked 4 shots and 12 passes all in 27 matches played this season. My prediction for the first leg is that it’ll be a very cagey tactical match, and it will end with a 1-1 draw, or 0-1/1-2 Real Madrid victory, as for the second leg my prediction is a 2-0 victory for Real Madrid.
Photo: Getty Images