Final laden with some unbelievable sub-plots and battles

Maybe, just maybe, the Barcelona fan in me will want Buffon to lift the big-eared cup up while his team-mates dance in a shower of confetti. Things have been black and white at Juve for too long now. They could do with a bit of colour.

Juventus players warm up during a training session prior to the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at the National Stadium of Wales on June 2, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales.   -  Getty Images

It’s been a while since I’ve connected with you on this space and I couldn’t have picked a better moment to touch base than just before the big one, the holy grail of club football — the Champions League final. Endless rounds of twirling mini footballs in a crystal jar later, it’s come down to two absolute powerhouses going head-on.

Everyone loves an underdog story but I’m sure no one’s complaining that there won’t be one on June 3 at the Millennium Stadium. Real Madrid versus Juventus is every gambler’s nightmare, every neutrals delight and you won’t find a more compelling crash course on attack and defence across what I’m certain will be 90 minutes.

 

Both Real and Juventus have had marauding runs all the way up to the final. The Old Lady gave ample proof of why they have the stingiest defence in the competition, conceding only four goals through the group and knock-out stages. It was fascinating to see the way they went about keeping the famed Barcelona attack at bay across two legs, refusing to let the Spanish side score.

Massimiliano Allegri’s men then shot down a high-flying Monaco without fuss across two legs to book their ticket to Cardiff. As much as I enjoy strikers at work, watching the way Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini go about holding the Juve fort at the back is fascinating to say the least. And in the rare event of them being beaten by opposition strikers, there’s the ever-dependable Gigi Buffon who surprisingly doesn’t have a single Champions League medal to show.

Then there is Zidane’s Madrid. People often discount what he’s done to this team as manager simply because of the star cast it possesses. Madrid had no qualms finishing second behind Dortmund in the group stages. They shifted gears when it mattered the most.

Napoli, who have enjoyed an impressive Serie A season, were brushed aside 6-2 on aggregate in the Round-of-16. Then came Bayern Munich and Madrid were touted to stumble and eventually fall across two legs. But a 2-1 defeat of the German side in their backyard followed by a 4-2 result in a home leg that went into extra-time and had its fair share of controversies, did the job for Zidane. On paper, Bayern may be better opponents than Atletico Madrid but derbies bring out performances you never knew you had inside of you. However Madrid were having none of that, sweeping aside their city rivals 4-2 on aggregate.

And now the two best teams in the competition meet. While Madrid have looked vulnerable in defence, they have always managed to make a mockery of the deficiency with some breathtaking play in attack. Ronaldo, the competition’s leading-scorer with 10 goals, has twice as many as Gonzalo Higuain who is Juve’s top-scorer. Then again, Juventus also have Paulo Dybala, who, when turns up, can finish off a game alone.

The repeat of the 1998 final is laden with some unbelievable sub-plots and battles. But for me, none will be more intriguing than the Dani Alves-Marcelo face-off. The two will be up against each other on the same side of the pitch and it’s going to be exhausting to watch them, given the machines they are. They’ve been team-mates in a Brazilian shirt and foes in what is arguably club football’s biggest rivalry. But this time Alves is in a Juventus shirt.

What the Italian side have is a well-rounded team with fantastic talent in every area of the pitch. But the edge that Real have isn’t on the pitch, it’s the bench. Zidane has quality options to throw in and change the complexion of the game. The fact that no one knows which one of Gareth Bale or Isco will start the final, should tell you the story.

To put into perspective how even a battle this is has always been, the teams have played each other 18 times with Real and Juventus winning eight times each while two games have ended in a draw.

Interestingly, Zidane could never win the Champions League when he turned out in Juve’s famous black and white stripes. But now, he’s going to try and deny them the title. He’s also setting out to make Real the first team to defend the Champions League title. Then there’s the story of Buffon. The iconic 39-year-old has lost in a Champions League final twice and at his age a third defeat would be an agony that cannot be comforted. Juventus last won this trophy 21 years ago and to erase that number is what will spur the Italian side, in the final.

This one is very tough to call and I’ll lay off the predictions. But maybe, just maybe, the Barcelona fan in me will want Buffon to lift the big-eared cup up while his team-mates dance in a shower of confetti. Things have been black and white at Juve for too long now. They could do with a bit of colour.