Real Madrid must break Juventus' hold on midfield

Andy West 10:12 05/05/2015
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Seasoned campaigner: Pirlo will be playing in his 113th Champions League tie.

The Italian champions against the reigning kings of Europe promises to be a closely-contested encounter, especially in Tuesday's first leg, with neither side wanting to give too much away. 

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Here are the three keys areas the tie could be won or lost.

Midfield minefield 

Star men: Kroos (TL), Ramos (TR), Vidal (BL) and Pirlo (BR).
Even though Paul Pogba is absent, the peerless passing of Andrea Pirlo and the dynamic energy of Arturo Vidal will 
ensure that the centre of midfield is a strong area for Juventus.

And with Luka Modric on the sidelines, it is also a decidedly vulnerable part of the pitch for Real Madrid, demonstrated by Carlo Ancelotti’s recent emergency measure of fielding centre back Sergio Ramos out of position there.

Given Ancelotti’s obvious lack of trust in his other options Asier Illarramendi, Lucas Silva and Sami Khedira, it appears likely that Ramos will again be lined up alongside Toni Kroos tonight.

To his credit, Ramos has done a steady enough job in his previous midfield appearances. But he is clearly not a natural in the role and, with Pirlo’s tactical brain to call upon, Juve will have a big opportunity to dictate the ebb and flow of the game and prevent the visitors from finding their rhythm.

Battle of the centre-forwards

Isco (L), Javier Hernandez (C) and Alvaro Morata (R).
With Karim Benzema injured, another decision for Ancelotti is whether to persist with Javier Hernandez or instead opt for a ‘false nine’ in the form of Isco, whose mobility, ball skills and ability to link play with midfield would make him more of a natural replacement for the Frenchman.

Ironically, in other circumstances one man who could easily have lined up as Madrid’s number nine during Benzema’s absence is Alvaro Morata…but Los Blancos instead decided to loan him out to none other than Juventus so he could now play against them.

After an excellent run a few weeks ago, Morata has been struggling for goals in recent weeks and could start on the bench tonight. But if he does get playing time, he will have every motivation in proving his old team wrong.

Is Bale back to his best? 

Rediscovering his old form: Gareth Bale.
Gareth Bale was only on the pitch for 24 minutes as he made a successful comeback from injury against Sevilla on Saturday, but he made a strong impression with a bright cameo capped by a good cross for Cristiano Ronaldo’s third.

Considering Juventus’s outstanding defensive abilities, Madrid have a tough task on their hands in scoring a crucial away goal. And that challenge would be, without doubt, significantly boosted if Bale is fully fit and fully firing – something, in truth, we have rarely seen this season.

James Rodriguez is in great form and Cristiano Ronaldo is always capable of poaching or bludgeoning a goal, but against Juve’s ultra-tight defence Madrid will need as many of their weapons as possible.

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