The Champions League semifinals have arrived. With an imperious home record, Juventus is looking to take full advantage against an in-form Real Madrid side not accustomed to winning in Italy.
Juventus host Real Madrid on Tuesday evening in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals. The Turin club has one of Europe's best defenses, and will be looking to halt Real Madrid's attacking forces, which want to defend a Champions League title for the first time in competition history.
Having overcome Madrid rivals Atletico in the quarterfinals - one of Europe's best teams defensively - Real Madrid is tasked with breaking down yet another stalwart defense in Juventus if it is to reach the Champions League final in Berlin. Despite its attacking caliber, it took Real until the 88th minute of the second leg against Atletico to take a 1-0 aggregate lead, and this season Juventus have been a step above last year's losing finalists.
Massimilano Allegri's side clinched its fourth consecutive Serie A title with four games to spare on Saturday, conceding just 19 goals in its 31 games so far this season. In the Champions League, it has been just as efficient for the Turin club - five goals conceded in 10 games with six clean sheets, including its defeat of Borussia Dortmund.
"I think we have the best defense," said Leonardo Bonucci on Saturday. "We know and understand each other perfectly after playing together for so long."
However, can they stop an attack as prolific as Real Madrid's? Cristiano Ronaldo is bang in form, having scored a club record 29th hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Sevilla at the weekend. Since defeat to Barcelona on March 22nd, Los Blancos has been unbeaten in nine games.
History favors the Italians
While both sides come into the game in-form, Juventus have history to fall back on. Real Madrid has won just four of its 29 games on the road against Italian opposition in European competition, with its last win coming against Roma in 2004/05.
Juventus' last semifinal appearance 12 years ago was coincidentally also against Madrid, and Juventus came out 4-3 aggregate winners. The two sides also met in last year's group stages, with a 2-2 draw in Turin and a 2-1 win for Madrid in Spain. It has in fact been 53 years since Real Madrid beat Juventus in Italy.
"We have an Italian head coach and he knows Juventus better than anyone," said Germany World Cup winner Toni Kroos.
"We know that no one has ever won this title back-to-back. This year's main aim is to do that, but we have to beat a very strong Juventus side first," added the midfielder.
Real are without Luka Modric who remains sidelined with knee ligament damage and while Karim Benzema (knee) hasn't travelled with the squad to Turin, good news came with Gareth Bale returning from a calf problem to play for half an hour in the win over Sevilla. The Welshman has been included in Madrid's squad, unlike Germany's Sami Khedira whose departure from the club edges closer.
Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba is still out injured following a thigh muscle tear, but is set to return to training this week with a view to possibly making an appearance in the second leg.
apc/jh (AP, Reuters)