Juventus vs. Madrid: Ronaldo, Bale and Buffon the key storylines in UCL final
Juventus face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on June 3, and there's plenty of big storylines for each side.
James Horncastle (Juventus) and Dermot Corrigan (Real Madrid) discuss the key issues ...
1. Time to scratch that itch?
The holders have never retained the trophy in the Champions League era. Meanwhile, there is the seven-year itch. A team from Serie A has won the Champions League every seven years (not to mention a few times in between) since 1989. The sequencing suggests it will be Juventus' turn again in 2017. Time to scratch that itch.
2. Buffon's bid for glory
Will it be third-time lucky for Gianluigi Buffon? A runner-up in 2003 and 2015, this is what keeps him going even at 39. It drives Juventus on as well. "We want to do it for the club and for our captain," Leonardo Bonucci said on Tuesday. Buffon deserves it, and should he finally lift the trophy, there's a chance he becomes the first goalkeeper since Lev Yashin to win the Ballon d'Or.
3. Can Juve's attack match their impeccable defence?
Don't reduce this final down to Real's attack against Juventus' defence. We're not in the 1960s and Juventus don't play catenaccio. One of the ways they have been so effective at nullifying the opposition is by giving them plenty to think about at the other end. They have Brazilian full-backs, a Bosnian midfield maestro who takes free kicks like Juninho, tricky Colombian wing play and a certain €90 million Argentine striker on 32 goals this season in ex-Real Madrid forward Gonzalo Higuain. Will it be decisive?
4. The Max factor
Achieving balance by playing five nominally attacking players is the kind of counterintuitive masterstroke that makes Massimiliano Allegri a great coach. Fully aware of how top-heavy the team feels, Juventus' strikers and midfielders shoulder extra responsibility and put in more effort than they otherwise would without the ball. Mario Mandzukic is the symbol of this willingness to sacrifice. The result is a team that defend and attack better because of the number of skilful players on the pitch at the same time. A chameleon of a team, Juve are hard to read and keep their opponents guessing. They switched systems five times in their 2-0 first-leg win against Monaco in the semis and adapted to circumstance brilliantly. Allegri also likes to keep a card up his sleeve and play it from bench. It's difficult to count the number of game-changing substitutions he's made.
5. BBC vs. BBC
When Juventus talk about defending, the word they use is "empathy." Buffon and Juve's own version of the "BBC" (for Bale, Benzema and Cristiano read Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini) have played together for almost seven years. They know exactly what the others are thinking. Still undefeated in the Champions League this term, Juve have been behind only once, and that was for 39 minutes at Sevilla. Real, on the other hand, have found themselves behind at home to Sporting, then away to Legia, not to mention both legs against Napoli, then Bayern at home and again away to Atletico.
Prediction: 2-1 to Allegri's men.
Juventus' control and game management sees them through, perhaps with an offside back-heeled goal in revenge for the one Predrag Mijatovic scored when the two teams met in the 1998 final. Another omen: Juve's two Champions League wins came against reigning holders.
1. Will Zidane stick with his A team?
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has possibly the best club squad ever assembled in terms of quality and depth. A clever rotation policy has seen established superstars Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric play key roles in their Champions League progress, while high-quality backups Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio swatted aside opponents with great style in lower-profile La Liga fixtures.
Could the A and B teams now be blended together? Should he inject some more youthful vigour into his Gala XI? A former Galactico, Zidane has so far respected the dressing room hierarchy. But for the final game of the season, he might spring a surprise.
2. Will Bale be fit? And if so should he be picked?
As soon as Gareth Bale limped off in the quarterfinal second leg against Bayern Munich, the countdown began. Would the Cardiff-born winger return in time for the final in his home city?
There are many good reasons for caution. The latest injury is Bale's 17th in four seasons in Spain, eight of which have been calf problems. The team also look more solid with an extra midfielder, with Isco staking his claim with a goal in the semifinal second leg at Atletico Madrid.
But then €100m man Bale is a firm favourite of club president Florentino Perez. Plus he scored a crucial goal in the 2014 final and provided the assist for Sergio Ramos in 2016.
It looks as if he will be available but not fully match fit. It's a big call for Zidane to make.
3. Can Ronaldo finally dominate a final?
Although he finished both games posing for the cameras in triumph, Cristiano Ronaldo cut a peripheral figure for most of the 2014 and 2016 finals, contributing very little in open play.
He reached the end of both campaigns fatigued and wracked by injury, having pushed himself through less important games earlier in the season. This year, Zidane has finally convinced the 32-year-old that it was in everyone's interests to rest from time to time.
The policy paid off spectacularly with eight goals across the quarters and semis. It also means Ronaldo could now be primed for a personal show in the biggest club game.
4. Can Madrid match Juve's hunger and go back-to-back?
Many apparently great sides have stumbled in their bid to retain the trophy, with defending champions beaten in four finals since it was rebranded the Champions League -- including Juventus in 1997.
Luck and injuries play a part, but finding the motivation required to come back and win the trophy again looks the biggest factor. Juve's hunger to finally get over the line will be huge. They have also lost finals in 1998 (to Madrid), 2003 (to Milan) and 2015 (to Barcelona).
Madrid's stars, going for what would be a third victory in four years, will have to match that desire.
5. Is Madrid's defence a liability?
Last year Zidane's side conceded just three goals in their seven knockout games as they lifted the trophy. This season they have kept just one clean sheet in 12 outings.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas has made some horrible mistakes, though his form has improved. There is also a major issue at right-back, where Dani Carvajal is currently hamstrung, and stand-in Danilo suffered badly on Wednesday night at Atletico.
Juventus have been expert at exploiting their opponents' flaws and Madrid's weak spot is pretty clear.
Prediction: Madrid to win 2-1 after extra time
It will be tight and tense but Los Blancos' deeper options off the bench will swing it their way.