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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Pressure is on Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane as they bid for Uefa Champions League hat-trick

Winning the European Cup for a third successive campaign is the only chance the club now have of winning silverware this season

Winning the Uefa Champions League for a third season in a row still might not be enough for Zinedine Zidane to keep his job. Quique Curbelo / EPA
Winning the Uefa Champions League for a third season in a row still might not be enough for Zinedine Zidane to keep his job. Quique Curbelo / EPA

Such has been Real Madrid’s domination of the Uefa Champions League, you have to go back almost three years to find the last team to eliminate them from the competition.

That team was tonight’s opponents Juventus, the Italian side who prevented a Barcelona v Real Madrid final in 2015 after beating Madrid in the semi-final.

The Italians’ 2-1 victory in Turin proved decisive after a defensive master class in the Bernabeu secured a draw in the second leg.

Juventus have been champions of Europe twice, but they have been beaten finalists seven times – twice against Real Madrid in 1998 and in the 2017 Cardiff final when Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in a 4-1 win.

Ronaldo, who has found a rich vein of form in 2018, has scored seven goals in five games for Madrid against Juventus, powered Madrid to victory in the second half.

Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon, 40, claims that they are in better shape mentally than at Cardiff. He believes Juventus made a mistake by being over confident, but he concedes they will be up against a superior opponent.

“No team is invincible,” added Buffon when speaking to the Madrid based Marca. “They are a very difficult side to beat. Real Madrid might be favourites, but the tie is at 50-50.

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"We also have to be ambitious. There is history and there is the present, but Juve are also a great team who know how to win trophies.”

Of Ronaldo, Buffon, said: “I have unlimited admiration for him, with time he has been able to improve. I admire him as he is someone who knows what he is doing and is pragmatic. In these last years he has shown his intelligence.

"He changed his position, uses less energy than before but is really lethal. In front of goal he is a true assassin. The only other forward with this clarity when finishing was (former-France and Juventus forward David) Trezeguet.”

Juventus, four points clear of Napoli at the top of Serie A as they close in on a record seventh consecutive domestic title and 33rd overall, have a good record against Madrid.

In their 19 previous meetings, Juve have won eight to Madrid’s nine, with both sides scoring 22 goals but Juventus have also won their last four two-legged knockout matches against Madrid.

They are underdogs and face the second leg away, but they did that in 2015. Madrid are also under serious pressure. Out of the Primera Liga title race before the halfway point and eliminated from the Copa del Rey after a humiliating home defeat to Leganes, they need to win a third consecutive Champions League to keep the pressure off Zinedine Zidane.

The Frenchman remains popular and very successful after winning the Spanish, European and World titles in 2016, but this is a club who fired Vicente del Bosque after he had led Madrid to the 2002 European Cup.

Third in the Primera Liga, Madrid are thirteen points behind Barcelona and four behind their neighbours Atletico.

They rested several of their best players for Saturday’s 3-0 away win at Las Palmas including Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Toni Kroos, all with the aim of having all their focus on the Champions League.

The Italians, who beat Tottenham in the last 16 tie, will be without the suspended Benatia and Pjanic. They finished second to Barcelona in the group stage.

Being second best again to a Spanish giant will only emphasise their status as Europe’s nearly men.

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