Andrea Pirlo

Real working to break their Italian hoodoo
Tonight’s huge Champions League semi-final first-leg tie between the Italian champions Juventus and current Champions League holders Real Madrid offers Carlo Ancelotti’s star-studded side the chance to earn a first win on Italian soil in seven visits. The Turin side boast one of the best defences in European football this season and are thus far unbeaten at home in their last 12 European ties, and whilst both sides come into the tie in good form, history favours the Italians. Real Madrid have won just four of their 29 games on the road against Italian opposition with their last win coming way back in 2004/05 against Roma. Juventus will call back on their last semi-final appearance of 12-years-ago when, as with tonight, Real Madrid were their opposition. The Italian side came out 4-3 aggregate winners in the tie and will be looking for a similar result as they prepare to host the ferocious, attacking Real Madrid side lacking their French forward Karim Benzema. BF

A party atmosphere that may help the home side
There will be celebratory scenes at Juventus Stadium this evening before a ball is even kicked, as tonight’s match is the hosts’ first at home since they sealed their fourth successive Serie A title on Sunday. Rather than prove to be any distraction, it’s more than likely that the carnival atmosphere will go some way to ease tension in the crowd for what is such a high-stakes game. It looks as if Juve will have to secure an aggregate lead tonight if they are to realistically progress to the final, and anything that will help to relax the hosts and allow them to play their best football can only be good. JW

Juve to face a confident Real Madrid defence
Most commonly associated with their phenomenal attacking players and style of play, Real Madrid also boast one of the more impressive defensive records of any top-flight European side. Now 444 minutes without conceding a goal away from home in this season’s Champions League competition, Madrid prepare to travel to the hostile Juventus Stadium in Turin in the hopes of continuing their march to retaining the trophy. With their phenomenal defensive record, Madrid should feel that their attacking flair can be the difference in Turin but will be fully aware of the Italian champions similarly impressive defensive steel this season. Tonight is is sure to be a tight game as both sides look to penetrate great defences. BF

An unhappy father-son reunion
Andrea Pirlo was rested for Juventus’ weekend win at Sampdoria, and will be fresh when he returns to the side this evening. The match may also excite the experienced midfielder as it provides an opportunity for him to meet his former manager Carlo Ancelotti, who Pirlo revealed to be “like a father” to him when they were together at Milan over eight years. That spell included two Champions League titles, but only one of Pirlo and Ancelotti will have the chance to win it again this season and any pleasantries will be put to the side this evening. It could well be the last genuine chance for 35 year-old Pirlo to go all the way in this competition again as a player, and he will give everything he’s got on the pitch in a bid for European glory once more. JW

The game of Buffon’s life
If Pirlo is fast running out of opportunities to get Champions League glory, then spare a thought for Gianluigi Buffon. In an otherwise glittering career, 37 year-old goalkeeper Buffon is yet to win Europe’s elite club competition, with his only previous final appearance being the penalty shoot-out defeat to (Pirlo & Ancelotti’s) Milan in 2003, and with rumours of the current Juve team’s stars departing this summer it seems the club have the best shot of winning this trophy now. We have a feeling that tonight (if not the next leg) will feature a career-defining performance from the Italian legend between the sticks, and with Real’s firepower Juve might just need it. JW