Zinedine Zidane has identified Paulo Dybala as Juventus’s biggest threat to his dreams of leading Real Madrid to their third Champions League title in four years.
The Spanish giants are favourites to lift the title in Cardiff on Saturday night, which would see them complete their first league and European double since 1958.
But Juventus will present stern opposition after securing their sixth consecutive Serie A title, and have fond memories of their last meeting with Madrid after coming out on top in their semi-final clash two years ago.
The Italian team’s squad has changed significantly since then, with Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez among the players to have left Juve since their previous encounter.
And one of the different faces to catch the eye is 23-year-old Argentine star Dybala, who was particularly impressive during the quarter-final first leg against Barcelona, scoring two superb goals to send Juve on their way to a comfortable victory.
Although the Old Lady’s strike force also contains former Madrid man Gonzalo Higuain, flying winger Juan Cuadrado and Croatian workhorse Mario Mandzukic, former Juve midfielder Zidane has no doubt about the greatest source of danger facing his side.
“They have a lot of good players. There is Higuain, Dani Alves, and three or four others we could talk about,” he said. “But Dybala is their number one attacking threat. He’s one of the best.”
On his own side of the fence, Zidane can select from a full squad after Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale returned to full training following recent injuries. Carvajal is certain to come straight into the starting XI in place of Danilo at right-back, but Bale’s position is far less clear cut with his replacement Isco delivering a series of superb performances over the last few weeks.
Zidane was understandably reluctant to discuss whether he intends to start with Bale or Isco, and also claimed he has the option of using both at the same time.
“They could play together – they did that 16 times this season,” he said. “We are happy to have Gareth back with us because he is important. I’m going to have to decide between the 22 players and it is difficult, and I’m not going to say what I’ve decided. A coach knows what he’s going to do, but I’m not going to say anything.”
There has always been a suspicion that Madrid’s various managers have come under pressure from president Florentino Perez to select Bale, who is reported to have met with Zidane this week to emphasize his keenness to start Saturday’s game in his home city of Cardiff.
But Zidane shrugged off the suggestion of internal political pressure, adding: “Gareth doesn’t have to say anything to me, I know that he’s got a lot of motivation to play in his city.
“It’s normal that there’s a debate, because they are both very good and very important players. Everyone can have an opinion, but it won’t condition me.”
One man who will certainly be in Zidane’s side is Cristiano Ronaldo who is bidding for a fourth Champions League title – with only four players having won more.
Ronaldo, therefore, knows exactly what it takes to be European champions and while a fierce tactical battle is sure to be fought, the Portuguese also believes it is a matter of mindset and will.
Ronaldo said: “We have to show our character, that we are the better team, and we are better than them, but we have to show it, because they are a good team too.”