Many will have you think, leading up to Saturday’s Champions League final clash between Juventus and Real Madrid, that the game can be pitted as the ‘best defense’ against the ‘best attack.’ Now, we at Eat Sleep Drink can’t deny that both clubs’ supreme strengths lie in those areas, but the fact of the matter is that both teams are immensely balanced tactically and in their strongest XIs.
Real Madrid is coming into this match as the defending UCL title holders and as a result, are positioning themselves to be the first team ever to win back-to-back UCL championships. Juventus, on the other hand, are looking at their second final in three years after their defeat to Barcelona back in 2015.
Both clubs are European behemoths and both clubs are tactically versatile. The most in-game tactical trait they have in common is that they have both used three center backs at various points this season, the Italians more comfortable in all phases with it, but Real Madrid has no qualms about playing five at the back when needed, especially if they have a lead.
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) June 1, 2017
The differences in these two sides lie in their identity. Real Madrid is an attacking side that will use various types of formational counters and will use it many times in addition to their possession play.
Similarly, Juventus is also a great attacking team, but they rely heavily on solid zonal defending and calculated high-pressing. Juventus won’t mind getting very negative with a hypothetical 2-0 lead while Real Madrid will still maintain their more expansive ethos.
Strategy. Will Juve press in a 3-5-2 or press in a 4-4-2? Or will they sit back in a 5-3-1-1? RM are comfortable parking the Bus, too.
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) May 31, 2017
With all this in mind, it’s hard to tell exactly how Massimiliano Allegri and Zinedine Zidane will approach this game; there are so many variables. But read on below as ESDF provides insight on what both teams are capable of tactically.
Juventus’ formation and potential approach if Real Madrid plays out the back
If Real Madrid opts to play more direct football early on; kicking off long balls to their world-class forwards, then you’ll likely see Juventus ditch any sort of high line and congregate together and drop off their press.
But, if Zidane’s men want to play out the back, then Juventus may deploy their 4-3-3 press that relies on man-orientation combined with a midfield 3 that plays compactly together to offer central axis cover.
The video below shows Juve’s ability to high press successfully in a 4-3-3.
However, Juve is also capable of high-pressing in a 3-5-2 and this could be an option they could use. The central three-man midfield in this formation, combined with either Mario Mandzukic or Gonzalo Higuain dropping off, could see Juve try and neutralize Casemiro, Toni Kroos, and Luka Modric’s ability to build up the play.
This press may be unlikely as it is risky and will require the fullbacks to time their runs and triggers correctly.
How Juventus like to attack using switches of play
Juventus, whether in their 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1, will always try to build up through the wide areas of the pitch and get their wingbacks involved. They’ll play very direct when they can but will also use their attacking midfielders and strikers to try and pull players out of position.
The video below shows a textbook Juventus goal against Barcelona in which a switch of play allowed for a backline to have to scramble.
How Juventus react when their press is broken
In modern football, a side’s ability to transition from one phase to another can be the difference between a win and a loss. Allegri knows this. As a result, Juventus are one of the best teams in Europe at reacting smartly when their press is broken. Watch below.
Juventus flexible in 4-5-1 – 5-3-2 switch when defending
The Italian champions’ bread and butter are their low-block; it is impenetrable. However, it is their formational versatility within that low-block that allows them to frustrate opponents.
Juve’s players know when midfield width is needed, backline width, and when to double-mark and press forward in every defensive phase.
Real Madrid area of possession
Fellow ESDF analyst, David Garcia, recently provided an excellent look into Real Madrid’s attacking strategy and tactics. So, in addition to my previous Juve analysis, I figured we had to include his work as Zidane has said he will not adjust his tactics for Juventus. And given their numerous weapons, why would you?
Anyway, Madrid like to maintain wide-possession in a rectangle about 20 or 30 meters adjacent to the penalty box.
As a result, the strikers, working with Isco, will try to pull defenders out of position so the fullbacks can find open areas for their crosses to penetrate.
Modric and Kroos’ possession impact
With Marcelo and Dani Carvajal playing very high, Modric and Kroos are pretty much the brains and will start the attacks with Isco, at times, helping the build up with his dribbling.
The video below explains further.
Marcelo and Dani Carvajal are the focal points of Madrid’s attack
Marcelo, Dani Carvajal, and Isco are the best dribblers that Zidane has at his disposal. So, because of this, Los Blancos like to use their 1v1 abilities to their advantage. If Real Madrid opts to overload on the flanks with passing plays, they know that either Carvajal or Marcelo, sooner or later, will create space due to their flair.
The video below showcases the outside backs ability to create chances on the flanks.
In all honesty, neither side has any weaknesses. Real Madrid nearly got picked off numerous times with Atleti’s high and counter-pressing, but I wouldn’t put Juve’s ability in those areas at the same level as Diego Simeone’s side; Juve press, but they keep a closer look at their shape rather than regaining possession.
Anyway, Real Madrid will put Juventus’ low-block to the test at some point in this match and will do it with much success due to their aerial ability. With that said, Juventus have all the tools to beat the LaLiga champions, but I believe Madrid’s firepower and creativity in all areas of the pitch, barring Casemiro, will be the difference maker.
I hope Juventus will use sporadic and calculated high-pressing like they did against Barcelona to disrupt Real’s flow, especially for goal kicks, but I think Allegri will play quite cautiously.
Carlo Valladares’ winner prediction: Real Madrid