European Football

Pirlo wants a final…but can the “old lady” summon up past glories?

Pirlo (700x466)
Juventus v Real Madrid:
In a different time, the meeting between Juventus and Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final would have represented a gigantic clash between two of Europe’s heavyweights. It’s still a mighty contest, on paper, but in reality, Juve are up against it. Anyone who cares about the current state of Italian football and hopes for a renaissance to kick-off soon will be urging Juve to put one over on Real Madrid. But it may be a forlorn hope.

Juventus are Italy’s best hope of a successful “European” club. In recent years, Serie A has declined significantly and is in the shadows of the EPL, La Liga and the Bundesliga. But Juventus have just won Serie A for the fourth consecutive season, so their tails are up. They’ve stuttered a little in recent weeks – red faces all round when Parma beat them – but they secured the title last weekend and they’ve lost just three games all season in the league.

A 1-0 win at Sampdoria on Saturday, courtesy of a headed goal from Arturo Vidal, was enough to give Juve a 15-point margin over second-placed Roma with just four games to go. Like Chelsea in England and Bayern in Germany, the champions have not really felt too much pressure at the top.Juventus could end up winning the “double” this season. They face Lazio in the Coppa Italia final on June 7.

Juventus will go into the first leg of the semi-final with some doubts over the fitness of a number of players. Paul Pogba is certainly out, but Juve may be missing Vidal and will certainly be short of Romulo, Caceres and Marrone. There were rumblings that Pirlo may also be sidelined, but it seems he will make the starting line-up. Pirlo could be heading for the MLS in the US in the summer and there’s even talk of Carlos Tevez (6 goals in the Champions League this season) returning home to Argentina and a contract with Boca Juniors.

Holders Real Madrid, meanwhile, are in hot pursuit of Barcelona at the top of La Liga and are a little bit goal-happy at the moment with 27 in the last seven league games. But they also have injury concerns with Modric and Benzema ruled out.

Juventus’ home form in Serie A is formidable. Only two clubs, Sampdoria and Inter, have gained a point in Turin, and Juventus remain unbeaten on their own patch. They’ve been written off earlier in the Champions League, but they have won through against Borurria Dortmund and Monaco in the knock-out stage. Real made hard work of Schalke in the last 16 and then overcame city rivals Atletico with a late goal in the last eight.

The two clubs are familiar with each other. They’ve met 16 times in the European Cup/Champions League over the years, stretching back to 1962. Real have only ever won once in Turin, way back in February 1962. The last five occasions they have played in Juventus home stadium have resulted in four wins for Juve and a draw. They last met in 2013-14 in the group stage, the game in Madrid ending 2-1 in Real’s favour and the return in Turin ending 2-2. And of course, the two clubs met in the 1998 final, won 1-0 by Real.

With so many rumours about the possible break-up of Juventus’ title-winning team, the Champions League could the swansong for a few of their players. Pirlo is already talking about how a final would be a great career “finale”. Mr Ronaldo ( 8 goals in 10 UCL appearances this season) may have something to say about that….Pirlo may have his final(e), but he may have to make do with Lazio in the Coppa Italia…..

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