Real Madrid will face a football legend in Gianluigi Buffon when the 2017 Champions League Final kicks off in Cardiff next Saturday. Buffon will be fighting to win his first Champions League trophy at age 39 after losing the 2003 and 2015 Final against Milan and FC Barcelona respectively.
Meanwhile, Keylor Navas will be the one in charge of stopping Higuain and Dybala's efforts upfront. The Costa Rican keeper has improved his form recently as he was very sloppy during the first half of the season. Navas has been one of the main reasons behind Real's successful run for La Liga title but it's clear that he is not on Buffon's level.
Buffon has only conceded 28 goals in 42 matches this season. He kept a clean sheet in 21 of those games —50%—, meaning that Juventus have an impressive defensive line as well. It would be unfair to overlook what Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini bring to the table, but Buffon's composure and experience are equally as important here. Barcelona's MSN of Messi, Suarez and Neymar could not score a single goal against Buffon in the Champions League Quarterfinals. He's 39 years old and his current contract with Juventus expires in 2018.
On the other hand, Keylor Navas picked up the ball from his own net 49 times in 40 matches and kept just seven clean sheets. Those are atrocious numbers for Real Madrid but again, the defensive line should share the blame. Navas is 30 years old and his current deal expires in 2020, although rumors from Spain indicate that he could either leave the Spanish capital or become a reserve next summer if Real Madrid complete the signing of David De Gea.
Buffon and Navas will clearly be the ones starting but the backup goalkeeper could be crucial if something happens during the game —see 2002 Champions League Final—.
Neto is Buffon's replacement and he's played in 14 matches this season, conceding nine goals and keeping a clean sheet in eight of those games. The Brazilian goalkeeper is a decent backup but he clearly doesn't have what it takes to replace Buffon once the legend announces his retirement.
Kiko Casilla will be ready to play if coach Zinedine Zidane needs him. He's played 19 games this season and even managed to really challenge Keylor Navas' starting spot when the Costa Rican keeper wasn't playing very well. Some reporters and fans wanted Zidane to trust Casilla more often but Navas never truly lost his starting spot. Casilla conceded 22 goals throughout those 19 matches he played and kept a clean sheet just six times. He completed his best performance against Alaves, when his saves kept Real Madrid's 1-0 lead until Isco sealed the win by scoring Real's second goal in the 85th minute. Things could have been different without Casilla's good performance.
Managing Madrid's verdict
Juventus have the edge here. Not only they defend better as a team, Buffon also is a true legend of the game who's still in form at age 39. It would be easy to think that he should have entered his decline some time ago and yet Buffon changed his approach to the game and started to trust his experience and positioning more often instead of relying on his reflexes an agility. It will not be easy for Madrid to create scoring chances and even then they will be facing Gianluigi Buffon. It's tme for Los Blancos to prove they have the firepower needed to win the Champions League title.
How to watch Real Madrid vs Juventus, 2017 Champions League Final
Kick-off time: 20:45 CET, 02:45pm EST, Saturday June 3rd.
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, Spain.
Available TV: FOX Sports (USA), BeIN Sports (Spain).
Available streaming: FOX Sports 2GO (USA), Fubo.TV (EVERY Real Madrid game with a high-quality and legal stream, click here to sign up and benefit from a huge offer for new members and Managing Madrid readers).