Wednesday could set the stage for an El Clásico final on the biggest stage in Europe. In order to do their part, Real Madrid will have to overcome a 2-1 aggregate deficit when they host Serie A champions Juventus at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Both of these European giants are coming off of disappointing draws in domestic play at the weekend, and whoever can reverse the poor form shown in the league will have the best chance of travelling to Berlin on June 6th.
Wednesday night could see the return of arguably the best young midfielder in the world, Paul Pogba. The Frenchman made his first appearance for Juve since his injury in the last round of the tournament against Dortmund. Pogba showed fans what they’ve been missing in his absence right off the bat against Cagliari scoring a nifty deflected goal. The fact that Juventus were able to hold their own last week without the former United player in their midfield shows the class and depth that they have at the position with players like Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo also available for selection. With their full midfield fit and ready, Juve will provide quite the test for the likes of Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez.
One of the biggest storylines of the first leg of this semifinal was the play of Álvaro Morata. The Real Madrid Academy product came back to haunt his former employers with a vital early goal. As mentioned before last week’s matchup, the striking tandem of Morata and Carlos Tevez can be one of the deadliest in Europe. The two lead the team in European goals with ten strikes between them. This potency was showcased in Turin when Morata and Tevez netted both of the goals to give Juve a vital victory at home. Even though the focus will be on the Juventus backline Wednesday night, any mistake by the Madrid defense will almost certainly be capitalized on by the attacking duo.
With their chances of claiming their first La Liga title since 2012 slipping through their fingers, a Champions League victory could be the last saving grace for Carlo Ancelloti at Madrid. With a club that demands nothing but excellence, a trophy-less season would be disastrous and almost certainly signal the end of Ancelloti’s three-year reign at the helm. The Italian manager confirmed to the media earlier this week that French striker Karim Benzema will feature at some point in the match returning from a month absence. Benzema’s return will be a welcome boost to the Spanish giants as he has registered six goals in the European tournament and is only behind Ronaldo for the team lead.
Now that the BBC attack force is back at its full power, they will need to orchestrate a master-class performance against a Juventus defense that has yet to allow more than two goals in a match all season. The Champions League, as of late, has been a barren area for Ronaldo compared to his usual prolific form. In the last three European fixtures, the reigning Ballon d’Or winner has found the back of the net just once, but that was against Juventus. Ronaldo will need assistance from a struggling Gareth Bale if he hopes to compete for his third Champions League title. Bale hasn’t scored in his previous six matches and he hasn’t scored in the Champions league since a December matchup against Ludogorets. The increasing pressure on the Welsh winger from the Madrid faithful could either make him shrink under the scrutiny or rediscover the form that saw him score in last year’s final.
As much as I would love to see Patrice Evra return to a Champions League final with Juventus, I just can’t see Ronaldo and Madrid getting eliminated at home. However, if they show the form that saw Schalke humiliate them in the Round of 16, Juve could claim the biggest upset of the round and continue their quest for the league and European double. When the final whistle blows, I think that Madrid will eek out a hard 1-0 victory and advance but at this point it could really go either way.