Champions League Final Preview: Full-backs for days

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Trends are common in football. The false 9, parking the bus, goalkeepers that can play out of the back. The latest viral trend is the wing-back, as width and attacking full-backs have become crucial tactical advantages. Real Madrid and Juventus are currently the sport’s trendiest clubs, and not because they’re in the Champions League final. Both are fresh off their respective league titles and will arrive in Cardiff completely stacked at the full-back position. Juventus will start the Brazilian combo of Alex Sandro on the left and “best attacking full-back ever” Dani Alves on right (but Dani Alves isn’t really a full-back). Real Madrid have Marcelo, their own Brazilian that’s considered “the best at his position”, and Spanish international Dani Carvajal is the owner of the right side. Let’s begin this preview with the visitors from Madrid (a draw selected Juventus as the home team for Saturday’s final).

Carvajal’s recent recovery from a hamstring was big news. If he has to be scratched from the starting 11, Juventus will take full advantage of a favorable mismatch on the right side against the tough-tackling Danilo. The former Porto right-back has been known to be an inconsistent match-day performer. And even though he can streak up the field, it seems he’s often asked by his manager to maintain his position and watch his back. What Marcelo and Carvajal contribute cannot be overstated. Christian Bobo Vieri, a former number 9 that made a lot money scoring goals from inside the box, has said numerous times that right now, Marcelo is Real Madrid’s most important player. I have to agree. Because now that Ronaldo is playing as out-an-out central striker, Marcelo’s creativity and willingness to attack down the flank are more important than ever. Notice on Saturday how often Marcelo lifts his head and looks for Ronaldo. It’s a connection that Massimiliano Allegri’s men will have to break down.

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Shortly after winning Real Madrid’s 10th Champions League title against Atletico de Madrid, Dani Carvajal was cut from Vicente Del Bosque’s 2014 World Cup roster. Surely a bitter pill to swallow for a young player. Carvajal was coming off a successful title-winning campaign and deserved of an opportunity to play with the aging defending world champions. But that’s all in the past now. I’m sure he doesn’t even remember. My point is that Dani Carvajal has been playing like a world-class right-back for some time now. He’s both quick and speedy. He’s also technically sound in possession and at pace, and is an excellent crosser of the ball. In Cardiff, the feisty former Real Madrid academy player will have another opportunity to show the world how good he really is.

What more can I say about Dani Alves? I’ve already dedicated a post to him and mentioned him in others because his Champions League performances have forced me to. He’ll be one of the main protagonists throughout the match. Both managers surely have ‘Dani Alves’ written in their pre-match notes, while his national team partner Marcelo will be extra motivated to face him on the biggest stage. Against Real Madrid, expect Dani Alves to link up with Miralem Pjanic in the middle and Juan Cuadrado just a step ahead of him on the right. Alves plays like a winger, but he’s made a living as a defender. His attacking characteristics have allowed Juventus to evolve their 4-3-2-1 formation to fit the skills of their elite wing-backs. On their left side, the Italian champions might be even deeper.

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Do we call Alex Sandro a revelation? Or is he just another gem that started his European career at Porto? I say both. Unless you follow the Portuguese First Division, you probably didn’t know about Sandro until this season. Alex Sandro has a quick left foot and futsal dribbling skills in tight spaces. Even though he’s not deemed as dangerous as Dani Alves, Sandro has to be accounted for when he creeps up the field. He’s part of a menacing left-side trio that includes Sami Khedira supporting from the middle and Mario Mandzukic on the wing. That’s right. Mandzukic is playing like a hybrid left winger that can help on defense and still be a far-post threat for Dani Alves.

We could debate all day about which team has the stronger full-backs. But I think we can all agree that both sets will be under the microscope come kickoff. Come back this Friday for my final Champions League Preview (Ronaldo & Benzema vs Higuain & Dybala), plus my prediction.

6 thoughts on “Champions League Final Preview: Full-backs for days

  1. Great stuff. For sure I’ll be keeping an eye on these four on saturday. Reading you analysis is great help for seeing the matches with a different perspective. Looking forward to that unbiased prediction on friday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Juan. It’s definitely a mouth-watering final. I’ll put you on the spot: who’s your favorite to win on Saturday?

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  2. Great article, Felipe. Spot on analysis. This should be a great tactical chess match. Looking forward to the match preview today. Hoping it includes a healthy dose of our boy Pjanic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve given Pjanic mad love lately! Today let’s focus on the strikers. Take a look and let me know your match prediction.

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  3. Hola Pri
    I think the attacking range of Dani Alves is reduced when Cuadrado comes in. It had happend before that Cuadrado asumes the attacking task in the right Juve, also because Cuadrado will never fit a defending position as Dani Alves. Also I think Marcello has no replacement on Real Madrid left both defens and attack. Have you see the quality of plays and goals that Cristiano scores when Marcelo begins to lead the left lane ?

    Liked by 1 person

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