What a game; let me be the first to say this about last night’s final; it was the first final I was left utterly disappointed by the performance of the team I learnt my support too since the 2011 final between Manchester United and Barcelona. Juventus were disappointing; however after writing that I feel I have disrespected the work and ethos that went into that victory for Real Madrid last night. For the first time in the Champions League Era; a club retains Old Big Ears; the last team to win it back to back in the Old era were, the second most successful team in the Champions League; so how fitting that the most successful team put up a performance that sets them a world apart from the rest; kudos to Zinedane Zidane and his team.
On this platform; we ran a predict and win competition for the Champions league courtesy IT Cyber Security giants; Digital Encode, interestingly no one saw a 1-4 scoreline in favour of Real Madrid coming; the closest we had were 1-3 and 2-4. What happened to the solid an resolute Juventus defense? What happened to the entire team; was it a case of stage fright? Here are my thoughts:
Gonzalo Higuain: Anonymous again
What is it with Gonzalo Higuain and finals? A quick check in my Webster dictionary shows Gonzalo Higuian as a synonym to anonymous. Every single final I have watched him play; he ends up been a complete shadow of himself. Like it or not; agree or disagree; Juventus coughed out 90 Million Euros for the Argentine striker to aid them win the Champions League; but on the night the stars were meant to align; he was found wanting and had a really poor game. Juventus settled well early into the game; creating the first real chance of the game; you can say Real scored against the run of play; but Higuain was not assertive enough; I was more impressed with Dybala and Mandzukic presence and influence in Juve’s attack line.
Another disappointing end to an otherwise glorious season for the Old Lady and it’s Argentine forward; with this performance a lot of doubt would have snuck into his mind now and its safe to say he has the unwanted reputation of failing at finals, when he is needed the most.
Isco: Simply Magical
On the subject of Isco; a lot of credit must go to Zizou for finding a way to accommodate him in his starting eleven without tampering with his team’s balance. En-route to the Final in Cardiff; many managers would have been under pressure to start Gareth Bale because of his ties to the city of Cardiff; thankfully Zidane was not consumed by the occassion.
In the last few months; Isco has been nothing short of magical in every aspect of the game; his inclusion gives Real some added level of reassurance and flexibility as Toni Kroos can join Casemiro to form part of a double pivot; or free up Modric to achieve greater penetration. With Isco in the side; the Real Madrid midfield can switch to different types of formations depending on the positioning of the midfield quartet; this ensures the likes of Ronaldo and Benzema have no reason to worry about defensive duties. This flexibility allowed Real to be able to stifle Juventus play in midfield; thereby rendering their main creative forces in Pjanic and Dybala completely ineffective.
In the summer; Isco can now sit down with Zidane and Perez to get a bumper step up in his current deal because he won’t be short of suitors in the transfer market.
The Stifling of Dybala and Pjanic
If there was on aspect of Juventus play that Real Madrid focused on it had to be the deceptive play of the Argentine youngster; Paulo Dybala. In a functioning Juventus team, the combination of imagination and trickery of Dybala and Pjanic make the Old Lady tick; once you stifle them and ensure their outlets in wide areas are blocked off; you have a great chance. You have got to commend the work of Casemiro and Toni Kroos in this regard; both ensure that those spaces Dybala would normally find and drop into to cause havoc were almost non existent. Every time the little Argentine dropped into the midfield space to create attacking outlets; you would find the Los Blancos midfield swarm on him like bees; it got more and more frustrating for the young man that he had to be taken off after receiving a yellow card.
Zidane’s midfield flexibility stood firm and adjusted to every situation as the progressed to attack and retreated to defend; ensuring that the Juventus wing backs didn’t get much of the ball or forced them to come in narrow; hence allowing their own full backs in Carvajal and Marcelo; time and space to join up the attack; a brilliant tactical master stroke from the great Frenchman.
A typical smash and grab
There’s this saying in football that goes ” you are more vulnerable to concede a goal immediately after you have just scored at the other end”. Well let me add a little twist to the saying as follows ”you are more likely to score another goal just after you just scored” and that was the case for Real Madrid. As Casemiro put his team ahead have a ridiculous deflection; Ronaldo ended all chances of Juve finding their way back into the game with a third goal three minutes later.
It was a proper Spanish job and upgrade on the Italian job; hit them whilst they are trying to come to terms with been behind; you set then even further behind the more; a proper smash and grab.
Zizou: Creating his own Legacy
Let us all enjoy this moment and not start bothering ourselves with what the future holds for one of the greatest footballers to grace this earth and now making a name for himself as a managerial great. Today, Zizou wakes up as the first back to back ”Champions League” winner; his stock is obviously rising; a lot of things would running through his mind now on what’s next. Good enough he has the full support of the fans and the club’s hierarchy; he has been given a free pass, plus some preferential treatment as it involves tactics and we do know other managers took stick for doing some of what he did with this team.
Now, I am happy for Zizou because he has been able to freshen up this team from within; the transfer ban was a blessing in disguise. It allowed him take a chance on the likes of Asensio and Lucas Vazquez to very good effect. It will be interesting to see how Zidane navigates the transfer market; would his approach be a departure from the Galaticos system or would he embrace it.
A number of skeptics will tell you this is not his team and that he needs to prove his mettle in the transfer market; he can ignore all of them and just focus on continue to ensure this team is successful, whilst preparing a succession plan for the retirement of a player like Cristano Ronaldo. Like it or not; it is something that must be address over the next three years; even if Zizou is no longer on the Bernabeu hot seat.
Big Congratulations to Zizou has he continues to put up a fight for footballing geniuses as Managers; look at Maradona and Pele, nothing on the managerial landscape; for some Zidane is number three in that all time equation; he is pushing the envelope further and making a name for himself as a manager.
Gianluigi Buffon: What’s Next?
For the romantics and sensationalist; it was all about Buffon finally lifting Old Big ears; but as they say in life, you cannot win all the time and you cannot win it all. Yes some players were fortunate to lift every trophy available; some didn’t even come close to winning anything. Truth is Gianluigi Buffon has lifted more than most; we do not know if this is his swan song on the highest stage in club football, however one thing is for sure his legacy as an all time great remains intact and indelible for all to see and hear about for many a generations.
If Buffon’s legend was ever in doubt, just check how long it has taken to break his transfer record for a goal keeper from Parma to Juventus. Gianluigi Buffon; an all time leader, footballing and goal keeping legend; take a bow.
*** Pictures courtesy Squawka.com; goal.com; firstpost.com