Near the end of Zonal Marking's fascinating tactical analysis of Juve's 4-2 reversal at Fiorentina on Sunday, Michael Cox made the following observation:
"Juve’s system was exposed – they appeared unaccustomed to dealing with two advanced wingers, and vulnerable to counter-attacks too."
Reading that I couldn't help but wonder if Vincenzo Montella hadn't just handed Carlo Ancelotti a successful template with which to defeat the champions of Italy, one that coincidentally happens to be perfectly suited to Real Madrid's personnel and tendencies
As Cox noted, Fiorentina successfully attacked Juventus down the flanks with advanced wingers that pushed Juve's own advanced wingers, important attacking pieces, further and further back which served to disrupt the carefully calibrated structure of Antonio Conte's side. Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria or Gareth Bale will likely be instructed to use their considerable pace and press the attack aggressively down the flanks in much the same manner that Juan Cuadrado and Joaqin did over the weekend. Juventus' structure and discipline are such that they are rarely broken down so effectively. Partially because not many teams have the talent and ambition to even try and it seems a particularly cruel twist of fate that the Fiorentina fixture fell directly ahead of their trip to Madrid, shaken as they already are psychologically by the result.
Contemplating the utilization of Montella's strategy makes Carlo Ancelotti's selections at left and right back extremely telling and important. Inserting Marcelo at left back makes perfect sense due to his unquestionable telepathy with Ronaldo, not to mention his ability to unleash deadly crosses into the box. Attacking down the left is definitely something Madrid excel at and whether it may make them slightly predictable is something to ponder going forward.
However, the selection of Dani Carvajal against Malaga may have provided a glimpse of the answer to that question, as the young swashbuckling right back made dangerous, marauding runs and mixed extremely well with Angel Di Maria. The two players added a level of proportion and symmetry to Madrid's attack that it hasn't often enjoyed in recent history. Will Ancelotti entrust such responsibility to a relatively inexperienced player in such a high-profile match?
Reports are emerging from Spain that Ancelotti may lean on the considerable experience in his side, which would likely mean that Alvaro Arbeloa will be preferred to Carvajal, if true. The veteran Spanish international, while lacking Carvajal's offensive threat, can certainly provide a welcome level of guile, balance and stability that could prove crucial if Juve are able to dictate a slower tempo. Still, it is tempting to wonder if Ancelotti will throw caution slightly to the wind and unleash both Marcelo and Carvajal in an effort to severely damage Juventus' chances to progress from the group. Fiorentina's ability to switch play laterally from to side to side quickly bewildered Juve and such a tactic could definitely be replicated more readily by the youngsters.
According to WhoScored, Juve love to attack the middle of the pitch with through balls that Carlos Tevez and/or Paul Pogba can latch onto. This makes the battle for the center of the field essential for Madrid's ability to contain Juventus offensively. I'd expect the seasoned, battle worn duo of Pepe and Sergio Ramos to anchor the central defense. Some observers feel that Andrea Pirlo can be dilligently man-marked out of a match. Who will be given that task? Sami Khedira's physical presence and powerful box-to-box runs would seem to make him an ideal candidate for such a job, if that's the direction Ancelotti chooses to go in. Illarra has played well recently in the deep lying midfield role, but again as with Carvajal will he be entrusted with such an important responsibility on such a huge stage. If Illarra is selected does that mean Isco will be dropped in favor of Luka Modric? There are so many tactical puzzles and intrigues that will be understood a little better when the starting XI is released and Ancelotti's thinking and approach are fully revealed.
Another question of course hinges on the fitness of Gareth Bale. I'd wager that he will come off the bench as he did against Malaga, perhaps at the hour mark if the match is scoreless and Ancelotti decides the team needs a spark. It is hard to imagine Di Maria being dropped after his performance against Malaga, particularly if Carvajal is selected, as the two showed real promise together.
Decisions, decisions. This is why we watch. What a fascinating match to ponder!