Real Madrid hosts Juventus on Wednesday in the second leg of the Champions League semis to determine which team will face Barcelona in the final.
[ RECAP: Barca advances to fifth UCL final ]
Juventus holds a 2-1 aggregate lead following a first leg win in Turin, but now Massimiliano Allegri’s men must fend off Real in front of 80,000 strong at the Bernabeu.
Many would argue this match pits the world’s best defensive team in Juve against the world’s most dangerous attack in Real Madrid. Below we take a look at three questions that could define the outcome of this semifinal clash.
HOW DOES ALLEGRI ORGANIZE THE JUVENTUS DEFENSE?
Juventus has played shut-down defense all season long, conceding just 20 goals in 35 Serie A matches, and that stellar defensive record has carried over into the Champions League as well. In the first leg of the semifinal, Allegri’s men started the match with an aggressive high-pressure system, but switched to a more defensive look when Juve took the lead.
Playing away from home at the Bernabeu, it will be interesting to see if Allegri chooses to press again early, or if he will start with a more defensive-minded formation. Real has scored a goal in 52 consecutive matches at home, so Juventus will certainly have to deal with a lot of action from Ronaldo & Co. on the attack.
One key factor that could determine how Juve’s back-line looks…
WHICH BALE WILL SHOW UP?
It’s been a tough
week season for Gareth Bale, as the world’s most expensive footballer has struggled to find his form for Real. Earlier in the week, Bale’s agent claimed he was struggling because his teammates don’t pass him the ball enough. Soon after that, Madrid’s manager Carlo Ancelotti told Bale’s agent to shut up.
Bale had one of his poorest performances for Real in the first leg at Juventus Stadium, getting only 27 touches on the ball in 85 minutes of play before being subbed off in favor of 22-year-old Real academy product Jese. If Real wants to expose the stingy Juventus defense, Bale must be at the top of his game.
With Karim Benzema back from injury, the striking trio of Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema is back together. As seen by the play of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, having your top scorers on the same page can work wonders.
CAN PAUL POGBA DELIVER ON THE BIG STAGE?
Considering Paul Pogba was named the best young player at the World Cup last summer, it seems strange to ask if the French international can deliver in big games. But at 22-years-old, this is surely the biggest match of his career in a Juventus shirt.
Pogba has been brilliant for Juve all season, but his stellar campaign was brought to a halt when he tore his hamstring two months ago. The French midfielder returned to action for the first time this weekend, and scored Juve’s only goal in a 1-1 draw against Cagliari. However, that was a meaningless Serie A match, and this is the Champions League semifinal.
Allegri has said that Pogba is fit and is “very probable” to start against Real, although he may not be able to go the full 90 minutes. With the chance of keeping a clean sheet at the Bernabeu highly unlikely, it will be Pogba’s job to control the Juventus attack, either feeding Carlos Tevez through or taking on defenders himself. Tabbed to be one of the hottest transfer prospects this summer, Pogba’s performance tomorrow could be a stepping stone for his extremely bright future.