Real Madrid vs Juventus: Italian champions reach Champions League final with an unlikely mix of cast-offs and oldies

Alvaro Morata, who scored in both semi-final legs against Real, was unwanted by the Spanish giants, while at 35, the evergreen Andrea Pirlo remains one step ahead of opponents

Click to follow
The Independent Football

There is a common theme running through the Juventus side who have reached their first Champions League final since 2003. Paul Pogba was unwanted by Manchester United, Alvaro Morata was unwanted by Real Madrid, Carlos Tevez was unwanted by Manchester City, and even coach Massimiliano Allegri was unwanted by Juventus supporters.

When he turned up in Turin last July after an uninspiring spell at Milan which ended in the sack, he followed the hugely popular Antonio Conte. But he has taken Juve’s domestic dominance and given it European pedigree. And he has done it with a team of senior pros in the twilight of their careers and players with points to prove after rejection elsewhere.

When Juventus president Andrea Agnelli and chief executive Giuseppe Marotta picked Allegri as Conte’s successor, some Juventus supporters even went to the club’s Vinovo training base to demand that the decision  be reversed.

Ten months on, Juventus have won the league, are in their first Coppa Italia final since 1995 and face Barcelona in Berlin on 6 June. Allegri has done it by galvanising a group that had been too easily picked apart in Europe with a predictable 3-5-2 formation.

His tactical awareness has been a bonus for the players, but they seem to have reacted to the 47-year-old on a more basic human level. Perhaps they see something of themselves in their coach – a little underrated, a little overlooked.

Morata’s unwillingness to celebrate either of his semi-final goals against Real Madrid was born of a genuine connection with the club he signed for aged 16. He had broken through under Jose Mourinho but was shunted back down the pecking order by Gareth Bale’s arrival, Jese Rodriguez’s emergence and Cristiano Ronaldo’s morphing from wide forward to centre-forward.

Last year he came on towards the end of the Champions League final, but there was no commitment to keep him and he was sold to Juventus in the summer for £16m. At first it seemed he would stay as a squad player in Turin but he has displaced Fernando Llorente as Tevez’s first-choice strike partner and has made his debut and scored for Spain’s senior team.

Tevez is another of sporting director Fabio Paratici’s big success stories. Back in 2011, the Argentine had became an outcast at Manchester City after arguing with Roberto Mancini on the touchline when the then City manager asked him to come on against Bayern Munich.

It always felt that Tevez had been a convenient diversion for Mancini after another poor away performance in the Champions League. But he declared after the match that the player was “finished”. The portrayal of a dressing-room pariah – and his £90,000-a-week wage demands – put off potential suitors and it wasn’t until 2013 that Juventus took a chance on him.

He has scored 29 goals in 45 games this season and his performance in the Champions League semi-final first leg, shooting to create the first goal that was tapped in by Morata on the rebound, then scoring a second-half penalty, took Juventus within 90 minutes of Berlin.

Morata’s goal at the Bernabeu came courtesy of a Pogba knockdown. The Frenchman’s feelings of justification on the final whistle will not have been as strong as the 22-year-old striker’s, but he can’t help but have looked back on his struggle for recognition at Old Trafford. If Pogba had proved a major point winning three Scudetti, reaching the Champions League final was another big statement – especially in a season when United had not even qualified for the competition.

And at the other end of Allegri’s team is a 37-year-old goalkeeper, a 30-year-old centre-back and a 35-year-old holding midfielder.

Andrea Pirlo increasingly gives Juventus supporters palpitations with those sometimes ponderous midfield pirouettes, but despite fears he would be too slow for Real on Wednesday, he was one step ahead once again.

Giorgio Chiellini is a late bloomer signed by Fabio Capello in 2005. He stayed with the club when the match-fixing scandal led to relegation to the second tier. He came back up with them and, 360 games later, is on the brink of perhaps his greatest feat.

Another who stayed during those dark post-Calciopoli days is Gianluigi Buffon, who looked to have years on Iker Casillas over the semi-finals’ two legs, making the saves that kept Juventus in front on aggregate. He played the last time they were in a European Cup final, saving penalties from Clarence Seedorf and Kakha Kaladze in the shoot-out at Old Trafford that was eventually won by Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan.

Like Buffon, Patrice Evra brings European Cup-winning knowhow. He lost in 2009 and 2011 to Barcelona, though he was on the right side in 2008 when Manchester United beat Chelsea in Moscow. A winner of five Champions League semi-finals, he was one of the loudest voices in the visitors’ dressing room at half-time on Wednesday, assuring the younger players that they would not be going home defeated, that they would score, and that a goal would be enough to send them through.

It is some dressing room that Juventus have. The mix of weather-beaten warriors who have seen it all before and the young pretenders out to prove a point, topped off with the class of Arturo Vidal, and the coach who has even the most coveted player in Serie A saying he wants to stay in Turin. Juve’s renaissance under Allegri really has been a thing of joy.

Suarez doubt for final: Injury may ruin reunion

Barcelona will have to wait to see whether Luis Suarez will be fit for the Champions League final after he picked up a hamstring strain in the semi-final win over Bayern Munich.

The Uruguayan, who will undergo a course of physiotherapy, is a serious doubt for Sunday’s league game at Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona, four points clear of second-placed Real Madrid in the table with two matches left, can make sure of a fifth La Liga title in seven years with a victory.

If Suarez does miss the Champions League final against Juventus on 6 June, it will mean no reunion with two old enemies. Giorgio Chiellini, whom Suarez bit at last year’s World Cup, and Patrice Evra, whom he racially abused, play for Juventus.