- The aerial weaknesses along Juventus’ defence could benefit Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo
- Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane may feel “political pressure” to play Gareth Bale over Isco
- Juve forward Paulo Dybala has the potential to make Real Madrid uncomfortable
La Liga heavyweight Real Madrid takes on Serie A stalwart Juventus in the Champions League final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday June 3.
Spanish League Championship winner Real Madrid is understandably the bookmakers favourite. The club, after all, has won the Champions League (European Cup) a record 11 times and possesses one of the world’s most in-form footballers in Cristiano Ronaldo.
He told Business Insider: “Juventus generated headlines at the semi-final stage for beating AS Monaco 2-0 at the Stade Louis II and then 2-0 in Turin.”
Renowned for their defensive discipline, Juventus has one of the strongest rearguards in Europe thanks to Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini’s flexibility and positioning.
But, despite victory over Monaco, Cox claims there was cause for concern. “When a team like Juventus collects a 2-0 win on the road, people automatically assume it is because of classic Italian defending.”
“But I thought Juve actually conceded a lot of chances. I also think the team was aerially weak and that might play into the hands — or head — of Ronaldo.”
“Ronaldo has been winning games that Real do not deserve to win and that kind of factor is something you cannot ignore.”
Cox added: “I think Real will dominate the game, but I still like Juventus on the break [counter attack] and think it will be a dangerous game for the Spaniards. For example, Paulo Dybala operates in a zone of the pitch — in front of the opposition defence — where Real may not be comfortable. He could wreak havoc.”
It, therefore, come down to a battle of nerve.
This is by far the most significant match in 23-year-old Juventus attacker Dybala’s career. He has banged in four goals in the Champions League competition so far, but has a flexibility in his positioning and will pose a threat in the attacking third.
Ronaldo, in contrast, is 32 years old and has a wealth of big-game experience. He has been responsible for scoring or providing a goal once every 74 minutes in the Champions League this season and will be expected to make an impact this weekend.
But, for Cox, it could be Isco who unlocks Juventus’s backline — providing he features. The Spanish attack-minded midfielder may not even start the match if Real manager Zinedine Zidane succombs to “political pressure” and fields all his bigger name players from the off.
“I think the issue for Real is the team performs so much better when Isco plays, rather than Gareth Bale,” Cox told BI. “As good as Bale is, I think Real is better with someone who has a knack for linking midfield to attack.”
“I think Bale almost operates too individualistically. And when you have Ronaldo in the same team it can be a little bit compartmentalised.”
“Isco knits everything together and it changes the way Real plays for the better. I imagine Zidane knows that. After all, he was an Isco type player himself, but whether he can omit Bale from the line-up, or whether there will be political pressure [to play Bale], I do not know. If he’s fit, I imagine [Bale] starts.”
On who he believes will take the trophy home, Cox said: “I expect the bookmakers favourite will be Real Madrid… but I just about favour Juventus.”
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