UEFA Champions League preview: Juventus vs. Real Madrid in semifinal, 1st leg


UEFA Champions League semifinal No. 1 kicks off on Tuesday, as recently-crowned four-time defending Serie A champions Juventus host Real Madrid, the reigning Champions League champions, at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy.

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In the days leading up to Tuesday’s first leg, so much of the talk surrounding the game has focused on the big-name stars who won’t be on the field at kickoff — Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba and Real striker Karim Benzema — both of whom will miss the first leg due to injuries. Pogba has been out nearly two months with a torn hamstring, while Benzema returned to first-team training on Sunday, but has since been left out of Carlo Ancelotti’s 20-man squad ahead of the first leg.

Benzema’s absence almost surely spells another start for Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, the hero of Real’s quarterfinal triumph over Atletico Madrid and scorer of four goals (and three assists) in six games with Benzema out the last three weeks. Hernandez squandered a number of chances in that quarterfinal second leg clash, a luxury he likely won’t be afforded against Juve’s stingy defense, before scoring the tie’s only goal in the 88th minute.

Gareth Bale returned to action as a second-half substitute in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Sevilla, setting up Cristiano Ronaldo’s game-winning goal shortly after coming on.

[ MORE: Five things to look out for in Champions League semifinals ]

While Real continue to dominate their La Liga competition (seven straight victories by a combined score of 27-6) and gain no ground on league leaders Barcelona, Juve were officially crowned Serie A champions on Saturday after racing out to a 15-point advantage with four games still to play. Massimiliano Allegi has opted to rest a number of key starters in recent weeks, particularly ahead of Champions League games, and did so again on the weekend by not starting Andrea Pirlo, Giorgio Chiellini or Alvaro Morata.

Tuesday will be Juve’s first European semifinal appearance since reaching the Chamions League final in 2003, while Madrid are aiming to become the first side to repeat as European champions since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990. Juve and Real last met during the 2013-14 Champions League group stage, where the two sides drew 2-2 in Italy and Real won 2-1 in Madrid.

How they got here

Juventus: Group stage — Atletico Madrid, Olympiakos and Malmo; Round of 16 — 5-1 agg., vs. Borussia Dortmund; Quarterfinals — 1-0 agg., vs. Monaco

Real Madrid: Group stage — Liverpool, Basel and Ludogorets; Round of 16 — 5-4 agg., vs. Schalke; 1-0 agg., vs. Atletico Madrid

Key injuries

Juventus: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Martin Caceres (ankle), Kwadwo Asamoah (knee)

Real Madrid: Karim Benzema (knee), Luka Modric (knee)