Real Madrid have a mountain to climb in the Champions League semi-finals after they were defeated 2-1 by Juventus in Tuesday’s first leg.
Gareth Bale started for Los Blancos in the first last-four encounter of the season, partnering Cristiano Ronaldo in what was a 4-4-2 formation. Elsewhere, Isco got the nod ahead of reported first-team rival Javier Hernandez to line up with Toni Kroos, Sergio Ramos and James Rodriguez across midfield. At the back, Iker Casillas captained the team from and kept goal, with Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Raphael Varane and Marcelo in defence.
On the other hand, Juve had Gianluigi Buffon in goal and went with a back four, not a back three, comprised of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Patrice Evra. Unlike Madrid, Massimiliano Allegri plumped for a three-man midfield of Claudio Marchiso, Andrea Pirlo and Stefano Sturaro, with Arturo Vidal supporting Carlos Tevez and ex-Merengues striker Morata.
Madrid were looking to become the first side in the Champions League era to win back-to-back trophies, while Juve were the final four for the first time since 2003.
In an interesting backdrop, the Bianconeri beat Madrid on their way to a penalty shootout final defeat against Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan that year and looked like repeating history early on when Tevez’s shot was kept out by Casillas and swept up by a tigerish Morata at the far post.
The Spaniard refused to celebrate against his former employers, a decision which garnered mixed responses on social media given the competitive nature of the match, but it was nothing less than the Old Lady deserved as they overran the Madrid midfield for the first half-hour.
Ancelotti could be seen looking rather less than impressed from his dugout, but the visitors seemed to have noticed their Coach’s cold glare and immediately upped their game, only for James to somehow head onto the crossbar, despite having all of Buffon’s goal at his mercy.
Nonetheless, Ronaldo would net his record-breaking 76th Champions League goal and nudge back ahead in the race for 2014-15’s top scorer following some fine work from James to play a one-two with Dani Carvajal and fizz the ball across goal for the No 7 to tap in.
The intensity died down after the restart, but Juve’s industry remained a highlight throughout and they regained control of the tie when Tevez buried a penalty on the hour mark after Carvajal had carelessly clipped the heels of the Argentine in the box.
Madrid may have had an abundance of talent on the pitch, but Bale was anonymous for most part and Ramos looked out of his depth in the middle of the park, while neither Chicharito nor Jese could light up Juventus Stadium with a moment of magic from the substitutes’ bench.
In fact, it was Juve who should have extended their lead, despite conservatively switching to 3-5-2, as another sub, former Athletic Bilbao star Fernando Llorente, should have rounded Casillas and sent a free header past the custodian before the final whistle.
Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid (2-1 agg.)
Morata 8, Tevez pen 57 (J) Ronaldo 27 (R)
Juventus: Buffon, Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra, Marchisio, Pirlo, Sturaro (Barzagli 64), Vidal, Tevez (Pereyra 86), Morata (Llorente 78)
Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo; James, Ramos, Kroos, Isco (Chicharito 63); Bale (Jese 86), Ronaldo
Referee: Martin Atkinson [ENG]