This Saturday at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, Real Madrid and Juventus will square off in the Champions League final. If you’ve got your team picked, good luck to ya. For the undecided neutral though, we’ve got some added seasoning for what is already a mouth-watering contest.
If Father Time stops for no man, he must’ve gotten lost on his way to Gianluigi Buffon. In a year when fellow ’90s throwback and nostalgia magnet Francesco Totti finally hung up his boots, 39-year-old Buffon can still comfortably consider himself among the best goalkeepers on the planet.
Has he lost a step or two? Of course. But Juventus would not be in Saturday’s final had Italy’s most capped player not been the last line of defence, conceding only three goals in the entire competition. Buffon has won it all — eight Serie A titles, a trio of Coppa Italias and a World Cup — but never the Champions League. Could this be the year?
Battle of the full-backs
If there’s one thing Brazil is capable of producing in abundance — aside from prodigiously beautiful people — is blitzkrieg-ing full-backs. Think the likes of Roberto Carlos and Cafu: mercurial, lighting quick dervishes running up and down the flanks. And Saturday’s final has plenty where that came from. Juventus have Dani Alves and Alex Sandro, while Real Madrid boast Marcelo and Danilo. Alves arrived last year from Barcelona on a free transfer, with many assuming that the 34-year-old defender was long past his best. Not so. Just watch:
Alves had a hand (well, foot) in all four of Juventus’ goals in their semifinal against Monaco, and it looks like he has no plans of slowing down. Real Madrid, meanwhile, have Marcelo — unquestionably the best left-back in the world and Cristiano Ronaldo’s best friend. How good is Marcelo? He led La Liga in assists this calendar year, and his performance against Bayern Munich in this year’s semifinals ranks as one of the best from a left-back in recent times.
Zidane vs Allegri
Who’s the best manager in the world? Your mental rolodex is likely scrolling through some obvious names: Guardiola, Conte, Mourinho. All ply their trade in what most consider to be the toughest league in the world — the EPL. But consider this: what if the two best managers in the world are actually facing off against each other on Saturday?
Take Zinedine Zidane — a man erroneously considered as having lucked into last year’s Champions League trophy after taking over as Madrid manager halfway through the 2015/16 season. But here he is again a year later. One of the greatest players of all time, Zizou is fast becoming one of the world’s elite in management. In the 86 games he’s been in charge of Los Blancos, he’s only lost seven. If that tally doesn’t rise to eight on Saturday, he’ll become the first ever coach to win back-to-back Champions League titles.
As for Allegri, considered by many to the one the best tacticians operating today, he’s just won his third domestic double in a row despite selling Paul Pogba at the beginning of the year to Manchester United. If Juventus manage to overcome Madrid’s star power and relentless attack, much of the credit will rightly go to Allegri’s playbook.
The Gorgeous One’s career continues to go from strength to strength. After claiming the Euro 2016 crown with unheralded Portugal, immediately after winning his third Champions League trophy with Madrid, it didn’t seem possible for the reigning Ballon d’Or winner to add anything else to his glittering resume. And yet, here he is again. As if a never-done-before back-to-back Champions League trophy wasn’t enough, CR7 is one goal shy of 105 Champions League goals — having already become the first-ever player to net a previously unthinkable 100 in the competition.
Juventus signed Dybala two seasons ago from Serie A minnows Palermo, hoping that in time he’d evolve into an elite forward — the perfect foil for fellow Argentine teammate Gonzalo Higuain. Well, Dybala more than delivered -— with searing pace and a killer left foot, he’ll be playing alongside Messi for Argentina for years to come. But how does Dybala plan on getting better? By improving his right foot of course. How? Here’s Dybala to explain:
“I take a pen every day and I try to write, but with my right foot, I put it between my big toe and the little one.”