UEFA Champions League preview: Juventus lead Real Madrid, 2-1 — Pogba’s back


90 minutes: All that stands in the way of Juventus booking their place in the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League final. 90 minutes and a 2-1 half-time deficit: All that stands in the way of Real Madrid, the defending Champions League champions, booking their finals place for a second-straight year.

[ RECAP: Juve 2-1 Real Madrid in leg No. 1 ]

Juve, now four-time defending Serie A champions, hold that narrow 2-1 lead thanks to goals scored by Alvaro Morata and Carlos Tevez in last week’s first-leg meeting. Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the La Liga giant’s only goal of the game.

The big news surrounding leg No. 2 is unquestionably the return of midfielder Paul Pogba, who marked his return to Juve’s starting lineup with a goal on Saturday, his first appearance since suffering a torn hamstring nearly two months ago. Pogba’s presence, even at 80 or 90 percent, gives Juve a considerable boost in their ability to slow the game down and defend through possession.

[ MORE: Barcelona 3-0 Bayern Munich after leg 1 | Bayern “must believe” in comeback ]

On the other side, it’s a delicate balancing act for Real, who must score themselves, but more importantly can’t allow the same kind of counter-attacking space afforded Juve during the buildup to Morata’s opening goal in the first leg. Carlo Ancelotti expects Karim Benzema (knee injury) to return ahead of Wednesday’s second leg, meaning the pairing of Ronaldo and Gareth Bale at center forward likely goes by the wayside.

Over the weekend, both sides drew in domestic competition — Real, 2-2, with Valencia; Juve, 1-1, Cagliari — though the results differ greatly in terms of importance and emphasis. Real’s league title hopes likely bit the dust as they fell four points behind Barcelona with just two games to play, while Juve, already crowned champions, rested no less than six first-team regulars in preparation of Wednesday’s semifinal decider.

What the managers are saying (via the BBC)

Ancelotti: “Our reputation is on the line against Juve and the crowd will be spectacular and will be our 12th man. We put in a shift for the full 90 minutes against Valencia. We ran, fought, and if you don’t put it in, it ends up taking its toll, but on Wednesday we’re going to go all out. The crowd got behind us and didn’t give in at any point.”

Massimiliano Allegri: “I won’t know my starting line-up right until the last minute. We know it will be a very difficult game in Madrid and a different one entirely, a more attacking affair. We passed up four or five decent chances in the first leg. We’ll have to put them away at the Bernabeu if we want to go through.”

How they got here

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

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