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Real Madrid and Juventus' midfields: Analyzing the tactical battle

Ancelotti's experiment in the first leg of the Champions League Semifinals didn't work out. Now he has more decisions to make.

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

The first leg of the tie against Juventus in Turin was unique in that the game wasn't really facilitated through the midfield. For the first time all season, Ancelotti played without a true striker, putting Ronaldo and Bale alongside one another in a 4-4-2, a formation which looked and felt a bit more like a 4-2-2-2, with James and Isco out wide and forward while Kroos and Ramos were central and back.

Juve's relentless pressure on Real's defenders had a ripple effect. The layers to Real's midfield naturally closed up passing lanes for Real's back four, who combined for an 88.2 pass completion percentage. For comparison, Real's back for completed 92.1 percent of their passes against Atléti.

And once the ball got out of the defense and into the midfield, the two lone forwards made life more difficult for Real's midfielders. Isco completed more passes to Marcelo than any other player, and Marcelo put the ball at Ronaldo's feet more than anyone else. Real played laterally and backwards, and Juve applied pressure in all directions.

Ronaldo and Bale being alone up front essentially divided the pitch in half length-wise, and adding Benzema or Chicharito would only help open up lanes for Real to run through, as well as pressure Juve's midfield in ways they're not used to. Madrid did not play to their strengths in terms of formation and lineup, and played the price.

Juventus kept their midfield tactics simple: they were going to pass clean over Madrid's midfield on the break. Here is a map of their long ball attempts (red being failed, blue being successful)

Juve wanted to hit their forwards in stride right at Real's box, and didn't really succeed in doing so, despite Andrea Pirlo hitting 11 of his 13 long ball attempts accurately. Real didn't make an effort to speed up Juve's midfield, and one can't help but think they'll try to do so in the return leg.

Ancelotti will probably give Juve an entirely different look and approach in the Bernabéu. Carlo will probably close the books on The Great Sergio Ramos As A Defensive Midfielder Experiment of 2015, and instead opt for his attacking 4-3-3 which plays to Real's strengths and Juve's weaknesses.

The BBC will do better to force Juve's midfield into quick decisions simply by having three players up top instead of two. A midfield of Isco-Kroos-James lacks defensively, as it has all season, but Juve will likely not be pressing or attacking with the tenacity they did in Turin.

In short, Real should do everything in their power to run directly at Juventus. Despite not showing up on the score sheet, Isco created the most chances on the team in just an hour on the field. A right wing of Bale-James-Carvajal has the collective pace to blow by most teams, and all three players thrive in a 4-3-3.

In the first leg, Juventus did what they aimed to do. They created seven chances from open play and had five shots on target, and earned a penalty which doubled their total. Whether Juve will go for the jugular and attack in the Bernabéu is unknown, but all signs point to them playing opportunistic defensive football. Meanwhile, Real created eight chances from open play but only tested Gianluigi Buffon four times.

Both teams will look and play completely different from Tuesday's match, and Ancelotti seems to have the tools to create more chances at home. It's a matter of whether Juve can hold for another 90 minutes.

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