Real Madrid must break Juventus' hold on midfield

Andy West 5/05/2015
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Seasoned campaigner: Pirlo will be playing in his 113th Champions League tie.

The Italian champions against the reigning kings of Europe promises to be a closely-contested encounter, especially in Tuesday's first leg, with neither side wanting to give too much away. 

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Here are the three keys areas the tie could be won or lost.

Midfield minefield 

Star men: Kroos (TL), Ramos (TR), Vidal (BL) and Pirlo (BR).
Even though Paul Pogba is absent, the peerless passing of Andrea Pirlo and the dynamic energy of Arturo Vidal will 
ensure that the centre of midfield is a strong area for Juventus.

And with Luka Modric on the sidelines, it is also a decidedly vulnerable part of the pitch for Real Madrid, demonstrated by Carlo Ancelotti’s recent emergency measure of fielding centre back Sergio Ramos out of position there.

Given Ancelotti’s obvious lack of trust in his other options Asier Illarramendi, Lucas Silva and Sami Khedira, it appears likely that Ramos will again be lined up alongside Toni Kroos tonight.

To his credit, Ramos has done a steady enough job in his previous midfield appearances. But he is clearly not a natural in the role and, with Pirlo’s tactical brain to call upon, Juve will have a big opportunity to dictate the ebb and flow of the game and prevent the visitors from finding their rhythm.

Battle of the centre-forwards

Isco (L), Javier Hernandez (C) and Alvaro Morata (R).
With Karim Benzema injured, another decision for Ancelotti is whether to persist with Javier Hernandez or instead opt for a ‘false nine’ in the form of Isco, whose mobility, ball skills and ability to link play with midfield would make him more of a natural replacement for the Frenchman.

Ironically, in other circumstances one man who could easily have lined up as Madrid’s number nine during Benzema’s absence is Alvaro Morata…but Los Blancos instead decided to loan him out to none other than Juventus so he could now play against them.

After an excellent run a few weeks ago, Morata has been struggling for goals in recent weeks and could start on the bench tonight. But if he does get playing time, he will have every motivation in proving his old team wrong.

Is Bale back to his best? 

Rediscovering his old form: Gareth Bale.
Gareth Bale was only on the pitch for 24 minutes as he made a successful comeback from injury against Sevilla on Saturday, but he made a strong impression with a bright cameo capped by a good cross for Cristiano Ronaldo’s third.

Considering Juventus’s outstanding defensive abilities, Madrid have a tough task on their hands in scoring a crucial away goal. And that challenge would be, without doubt, significantly boosted if Bale is fully fit and fully firing – something, in truth, we have rarely seen this season.

James Rodriguez is in great form and Cristiano Ronaldo is always capable of poaching or bludgeoning a goal, but against Juve’s ultra-tight defence Madrid will need as many of their weapons as possible.

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VIDEO: Juve manager Allegri looks ahead to Real Madrid clash

Scott 5/05/2015
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Carlos Tevez and Massimiliano Allegri look ahead to the visit of Real Madrid tonight.







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EPL: Arsenal's Sanchez tears into Tigers

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Alexis Sanchez has scored against the Tigers in three seperate matches this season.

Alexis Sanchez tormented Hull as Arsenal stepped up their drive for their highest finish in the Barclays Premier League for 10 years.

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The Chile international – who had scored in both of his previous games against the Tigers this season – was almost unplayable in a first-half blitz as the Gunners ripped apart a Hull side desperate for points to keep out of the relegation zone.

Sanchez scored twice in the first half, either side of Aaron Ramsey’s deflected strike before Steve Bruce’s men stemmed the flow with a header from Stephen Quinn in the second half.

The possession stats alone made uncomfortable reading for the Tigers, but for the first half-hour Hull had been happy to keep it tight and feed off any scraps, and certainly the visitors had been kept at arm’s length with only an inadvertent Tom Huddlestone back-flick towards his own keeper threatening a goal.

Arsenal, however, began to out some snap into their passing, and one exchange saw Sanchez skip inside and pull the trigger from 20 yards, but Steve Harper managed to parry.

That was only putting off the inevitable and when Sanchez was chopped down by Jake Livermore in the 28th minute he took sweet revenge, smashing the free-kick home with the aid of a flick off Michael Dawson’s head.

Five minutes after the opening goal, Santi Cazorla’s stunning long pass picked out Ramsey, who turned and fired past Harper with aid of a heavy deflection off Robbie Brady’s leg.

Some breathtaking passing saw Mesut Ozil set up for a chance but his shot lacked venom, then the impressive Cazorla played in Sanchez who tried to lift the ball over Harper but the keeper stood his ground.

Sanchez was not to be denied a second, however, and in first-half stoppage time another Arsenal move saw the Hull players like statues while Ramsey played in Sanchez who this time took the ball around 40-year-old Harper and scored into an empty net.

Bruce’s response was to send on Irish midfielder David Meyler for the ineffective Jake Livermore and the Tigers were immediately a tougher proposition.

It was Meyler who played a significant part as Hull pulled one back in the 56th minute. He clattered into Francis Coquelin and while Arsenal protested Ahmed Elmohamady played in a super cross that Quinn met with a stooping header than bounced past Ospina.

Hull could really have been back in the game when McShane sent a bullet header over the crossbar but that let-off was all Arsenal needed, and the Gunners were further buoyed when Jack Wilshere made his first return to action since an ankle operation in November, coming on for Ramsey.

Almost immediately he embarked on a mazy run past three Hull defenders, ended abruptly by Michael Dawson: welcome back to the Premier League.

Arsenal ended the match in total control with Hector Bellerin, Wilshere, Sanchez and Theo Walcott passing up chances to deliver the mercy blow.

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