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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Juventus can end 21 years of hurt by lifting trophy in Cardiff

Real superstars to be silenced by Old Lady's ruthless rearguard

Max Allegri (left) and Zinedine Zidane will do battle in the Champions League final
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Juventus v Real Madrid
BT Sport Showcase & BT Sport 2, 7.45pm 

If you are looking for a strong and stable Old Lady to turn up in the heat of a battle vote for Juventus in their mouthwatering Champions League final against holders Real Madrid.

It would be too simplistic to say this Cardiff clash is attack versus defence but clearly Real Madrid have few peers in the forward department, while Juventus are unrivalled at the back, which should make for a fascinating final.

Juve are better as an attacking force than many give them credit for and their 21-year wait for Champions League glory, including four defeats in the final, could be about to end.

Bookmakers rate Max Allegri's outfit as slight outsiders but they are primed for success. Juventus have won six straight Serie A titles and completed three consecutive domestic doubles - their time is now in terms of reclaiming their spot at Europe's top table.

The Bianconeri are unbeaten in this season's Champions League and went 690 minutes without conceding before Kylian Mbappe grabbed a consolation semi-final goal for Monaco in a 4-1 aggregate loss.

That was the only Champions League goal veteran keeper Gigi Buffon has allowed past him from open play in this season's competition.

Buffon is missing a Champions League winner's medal in his glittering career and the 39-year-old won't get many more opportunities to put that right - thankfully he could not have wished for a better defence to help make the dream come true.

Leonardo Bonucci is arguably the world's best defender and his sidekicks Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini are not too shabby either. If any side can end Real Madrid's run of scoring in 64 consecutive matches it's the unforgiving BBC. 

Juventus live up to the stereotype of Italians loving to defend but there is much more to their game, as was shown in the 3-0 aggregate success over Barcelona in the quarter-finals.

Dani Alves - who is being tipped to start on the right wing in front of a back four but could also be used as a wing-back if they opt for a back three - and Alex Sandro offer excellent quality from out wide.

And the all-Argentinian forward line with Paulo Dybala pulling the strings behind Gonzalo Higuain provides Juve with a devastating attack.

Former Real Madrid hitman Higuain is a guaranteed goalscorer, breaking the Serie A single-season record with 36 league last term before moving to Juventus where he scored 24 times in the league and 32 in total.

Dybala is a brilliant, dynamic footballer who links play between the forwards and clever midfielder Miralem Pjanic so Real Madrid will have to be at their best to justify favouritism.

The Spanish champions have a far greater range of performance levels compared to Juventus but whether that's a positive will only be known when the full-time whistle blows.

Real can throw in some stinkers but also have the personnel in the final third to cause serious damage, a point proved by their 106 goals in La Liga this season.

Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest superstar on show and the man currently seen as the world's best footballer has registered ten Champions League goals this season, one behind Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo was quiet during the group stage but came to life when it mattered most with back-to-back hat-tricks against Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid to earn Zinedine Zidane's side this shot at becoming the first team to successfully defend the trophy in the Champions League era.

No longer does Ronaldo rely on his twinkle-toed dancing feet and stepovers to put opposition full-backs in a trance with the Portuguese much more of a poacher who saves his energy for decisive moments.

Karim Benzema does the running, Ronaldo does the scoring and it's a partnership that has served Madrid well in recent months. 

To that extent Gareth Bale's injury has been a blessing with Zidane shifting to a midfield diamond that allows them great control through Toni Kroos and Luka Modric; a defensive base in Casemiro and the passing penetration of 2017 revelation Isco.

No Isco no disco is the way Real Madrid's supporters see it and most Bernabeu regulars would prefer to see the playmaker over Bale.

However, for all that Zidane can call upon the attacking cavalry, Los Blancos are chaotic defensively and conceded 41 La Liga goals this season. That's 14 more than Atletico, eight more than Villarreal, four more than Barcelona and just two fewer than ninth-placed Alaves. 

Real Madrid have kept only one clean sheet in this season's Champions League, gained 17 points in the final ten minutes of La Liga matches and collected only one point against Barcelona, which doesn't bode well in a form line with Juventus. 

Zidane's side have been behind in seven of their 12 Champions League games - against Sporting, Legia Warsaw, Napoli (twice), Bayern Munich (twice) and Atletico - with five of their six goals against Bayern coming when the Germans were down to ten men. 

Real Madrid's squad depth makes them ultra-dangerous if the match goes beyond 90 minutes so the draw-no-bet market is the preferred way of supporting Juve but if the Italians get in front there could be no way back for the reigning champions.

Juventus draw no bet
1pt 21-20 Betfair

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Team news
Reserve midfielder Stefano Sturaro is out with a muscle problem.

Real Madrid
Gareth Bale has admitted he is not 100 per cent fit and is likely to be a substitute with Isco starting.

Key stat
Both teams have scored in ten of their last 12 Champions League finals.

If the Italians get in front there could be no way back for the reigning champions
E.W. Terms
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