football

Will Madrid Defend Their European Crown?

June 01, 2017

- Grant Whittington

 

This weekend’s Champions League Final will be an emotional occasion for Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane, whose charges will head to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff looking to become the first side to retain the title in the modern era.

Not only this, but the French manager will also be facing a team who he represented with distinction for five years as a player, winning six major titles as a result.

This adds spice and an added dimension to an already stellar contest, but the question that remains is which team will prevail in Cardiff?

Here’s our Champions League preview ahead of the big game…

The Low-Down: Who Will Win in Wales?

Madrid are marginal, 17/10 favourites to lift the trophy with Ladbrokes, while they are also the fifth team to reach the Champions League Final in defence of their title. The four previous clubs (Milan, Juventus and Ajax and Manchester United) all came up short, however, with Zidane having played in the Juve side that lost to Borussia Dortmund while looking to retain its crown in the 1997 final.

Serie A champions Juventus can hardly be described as underdogs, however, having recently claimed their sixth consecutive league title at a canter. The team is full of consummate winners, while their defensive axis, discipline and slick counter-attacking style makes them a genuine threat.

In fact, the Old Lady of Italian football seem to have improved since selling Paul Pogba for a world record fee last summer. The talented Argentine Paulo Dybala has added pace and unpredictability to their front line, for example, while the predatory Gonzalo Higuain (who once played for Los Blancos) has added a definite cutting edge. In this respect, Juve seem to be a better team than they were in 2015, when they reached the UCL final only to lose to a dominant Barcelona side that was chasing the treble.

Some may argue that recent form should make Juve narrow favourites, as sides tend to have cycles where they perform well in the Champions League before eventually lifting the coveted title. Having failed to beat Barca in 2015, they performed very well against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich during the first knockout round last season, only to be overpowered in extra time.

Their run to the final has been imperious this time around too, with Juve conceding just three goals and only one in the knockout stages (Kylian Mbappe’s consolation strike for Monaco in the second leg of a one-sided semi-final).

Making the Case for Real

Despite this and the obviously difficult nature of retaining the Champions League, Real maintain a slight edge in this years’ final. Their squad is stronger and more diverse than it has been in previous generations, with Galactico’s such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale supported by hard-working support players and immensely talented youngsters. This has helped Madrid to evolve their style of play, while it has also allowed Zidane a chance to rotate players without damaging the clubs pursuit of domestic and European double.

In many respects, the current Madrid side has been moulded in the image of Zidane, who has broken with convention by placing a greater emphasis on team-work and tactics than individual quality alone. It is also powerful, strong and skilful side, and one that captures the attributes that Zidane had in abundance as a player.

With an impressive win-rate of 72.97% as of April this year, Zidane is also a man who has a penchant for winning regardless of the obstacles that are placed in front of him. This is an important attribute, particularly when you consider that the Frenchman and his squad will enter the match in high spirits after claiming their first La Liga title since Jose Mourinho’s record breaking triumph in 2012.

The Last Word

While history may be against Real and in favour of Juventus, there is something special and uniquely imposing about this current Madrid outfit. In this respect, there is a sense that the bookmakers have got it right by making Los Blancos favourites, despite the fact that Juve will prove tough opposition and an exceptionally difficult nut to crack.

Records are made to be broken, however, and we are backing Madrid to become the first ever side to retain the UCL title in the tournaments 25 year history.

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