Juventus look to avenge Cardiff despair against Real Madrid in Uefa Champions League
The Serie A leaders were beaten 4-1 in last season's final in Wales, but now have a chance to get one over on Zidane's men in the quarter-finals of this year's competition
A few notes of discontent were audible at the Juventus stadium on Saturday evening.
Mostly, the volume rose to jeer AC Milan, the visitors whose historic rivalry demands noise from juventini, but as the Italian league leaders struggled to gain an advantage on an evening when they had an opportunity to increase the gap at the top of the Serie A table, there was frustration.
Juve had conceded their first league goal of 2018 – scored by one of their former heroes, Milan’s Leonardo Bonucci – and there had been moments of indecision in defence and attack.
Sami Khedira, the midfielder, detected some derision from home fans, a little of it targeted at him.
“To my friends who told me I wasn’t involved in a goal in the last games,” he wrote on social media, “Silenzio.”
He silenced his critics emphatically, setting up Juve’s 2-1 lead with a cross for substitute Juan Cuadrado with 11 minutes remaining.
To cap things he then scored the third goal for the 3-1 outcome that puts Juve four points clear of Napoli at the head of the tightest domestic title race across the major leagues of Europe and makes them firm favourites to win a record seventh successive Serie A crown.
Khedira’s old cub, Real Madrid are at the Juventus stadium on Tuesday, packed with reminders that Juve, this apparently impregnable modern Juve, can be made vulnerable.
Ten months ago, Madrid beat Juventus 4-1 in a European Cup final. Gigi Buffon, the veteran goalkeeper, admitted this weekend he had only ever partially watched that game again at home: he turned off his television after the second of the Madrid goals.
Any time Buffon’s Juve concede four goals in a game it must seem surreal to him. Scroll back over the last two years, and the only other heavy margin defeat that stands out is the chastening 3-0 Barcelona inflicted in the group phase of this Uefa Champions League campaign, itself a payback for the Juventus win, by the same scoreline, that eliminated Barca in the quarter-final in 2016-17.
In Cardiff last June, Juventus score the best goal of the night, by a distance, Mario Mandzukic’s brilliant volley, to lend justice to a first-half in which Juve had started the stronger only to fall behind to a Cristiano Ronaldo strike, deflected off Bonucci and past Buffon.
The Juventus captain and goalkeeper, who turned 40 in January, cannot watch beyond the next Madrid goal, a long-range punt from Casemiro that deflected off Khedira.
Buffon pointedly refers to those first two Madrid goals as ‘own goals’, something they were not recognised as officially.
“One the one hand you can say ‘OK, it’s Madrid, they’re very good’, but when you look at a final where there are two deflected goals scored past you, you think we didn’t have much luck either,” Buffon said.
“But then there’s also something I always think: the small details, the incidents of good luck and bad luck tend to favour the side who deserves them.”
Looking back at Cardiff, Buffon recalls the swagger Juventus took into the game, their second Champions League final in the space of three years.
“We got there very confident, maybe too confident and that could have been the first and the worst mistake we made," he told the newspaper As.
"Let’s hope this time we can find the means to make things more balanced.”
Juventus’s personnel has changed more than Madrid’s since Cardiff. Bonucci and Dani Alves have departed, as has Mario Lemina, a substitute in the final.
There are significant suspensions for tonight’s first leg of the quarter-final, too, with midfielder Miralem Pjanic and defender Mehdi Benatia out, after picking up bookings in the last-16 victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
There is better news for head coach Max Allegri from a shortening injury list.
Cuadrado returned from a three-and-half month absence to make his decisive contribution against Milan at the weekend, while Alex Sandro, the left-back, and Federico Bernardeschi, the creative midfielder, have returned to training after recuperating from thigh and knee problems respectively.
Mandzukic, however, is some way short of full match-fitness and is unlikely to feature.
Updated: April 2, 2018 02:02 PM