In Part 1 of my Champions League Battle at Midfield preview, I focused on Real Madrid’s central midfield duo of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Today I’ll shine the light on Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira of Juventus, two proven players with even more to prove on June 3rd.
Juventus celebrated their sixth consecutive Scudetto last Sunday after defeating Serie A minnows Crotone. Before you shrug and think “Serie A isn’t a strong league anymore”, I’ll remind you that Roma will finish just a few points behind Juve, and that Napoli has had a historically successful season by earning a club record 83 points behind the quick-striking tandem of Insigne and Mertens. Remember when the boys in baby blue pushed Real Madrid to the brink of elimination during the Champions League Round of 16? My point is that Juve deserve all the credit and acclaim they’re getting. And as some of my favorite football journalists have pointed out, Juventus built their current squad with one objective in mind: lift the 2017 Champions League trophy in Cardiff. It’s an attainable goal to have when your club’s shareholders, players and staff share a universal ambition. Juventus is a model European football organization with savvy decision-makers in the stadium’s suites, and world-class players on the pitch.Embed from Getty Images
Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira were two players that were hand-picked by the club to help them win the Champions League after finishing runners-up in 2015. Khedira, like Dani Alves, arrived in Turin on a free transfer. Pjanic was a familiar face after excelling for Roma. He was a big purchase for the Club and has lived up to the expectations that come with a big-money move. Both players are the type of central midfielders that can create, defend, possess and breakdown a defense that’s preoccupied with wingers and strikers.
Let’s focus on Khedira first. He’s had some niggling injuries (we’ll see Claudio Marchisio start if Khedira doesn’t recover in time), but the German international is well-respected around the world, despite owning statistics that are less than spectacular. But I’m not a stat nerd. I prefer to look at his entire body of work. He won a World Cup in 2014 and a Champions League with Real Madrid (La Décima) a few months prior. He was one of Mourinho’s favorite players and was instrumental in Real Madrid’s quest to close the gap on Barcelona’s dominance in La Liga. However, poorly-timed injuries, along with the arrivals of Ancelotti, Kroos and James were too much for him to overcome in the Spanish capital. But he had done his time and done it well. Khedira’s a brash player that combines athleticism and skill with a very real desire to push the ball up the field. He’s not a natural finisher, but he’s built an impressive career by scoring the odd crucial goal, consistently getting himself into dangerous attacking positions and throwing his body at tackles and passing lanes. He’s adapted to Serie A by becoming more of a cerebral midfielder, with Dybala and Higuain benefitting the most from the German’s excellent vision. Juventus is a team that likes to put their boot on an opponent’s throat, and Khedira would like nothing more than to stomp out his former team’s dreams of a 12th European title.Embed from Getty Images
If you’ve been following my blog since it’s humble beginnings, you’ll forgive me if I gush over Miralem Pjanic one last time. My bromance with the Bosnia and Herzegovina badass started before Juventus made it to the final, so I can’t be the only one that appreciates his talents. I just love how understated he is, yet how significant he’s been to Juventus’ treble dreams since his transfer. Against Real Madrid, I have no doubt that he’ll do exactly what he did when he faced Messi and Iniesta in the quarterfinals, and Bernardo Silva and Bakayoko in the semis: stand his ground in defense, find pockets in midfield to support his back three and distribute the ball with impeccable precision. His tendency to connect with Dani Alves on the right side has already produced some very memorable game-changing moments.
The midfield battle in Cardiff will be one to watch and admire. Who do you think has the stronger midfield? Real Madrid or Juventus? Let me know in the comments.