Coming into the Champions League final, it was widely considered that Real Madrid was the more talented team but that Juventus had a real chance to win because of their tactical nous brought by the mind of Max Allegri. It’s not that Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is an incapable tactician — it’s just that with only a year-and-a-half spent as a first-division manager, he doesn’t have nearly the wealth of experience of Allegri to bring to bear.
What actually happened, though, was a tactical chess match that Zidane and Real Madrid came out on top of to the tune of a 4-1 win, with Zidane making the key adjustment that directly led to Madrid’s triumph — and Allegri failing to come up with an answer for it. For as intense a strategic matchup as the first half was, it was a decision made by Zidane in the second half that broke the match open — and broke Juventus’ once-indomitable spirit.
The early stages of the match were marked by a constant series of tactical changes by both teams, some major and some minor. Juventus started the match by leaning their defense to their right side in an effort to contain the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo. Zidane countered by changing his formation entirely, abandoning the 4-3-3 in favor of a diamond midfield with Karim Benzema and Ronaldo up top — and with Ronaldo lined up against the left side of Juventus’ defense, opposite where he’d been.
Back and forth Zidane and Allegri went — Zidane would swap his central midfielders, Allegri would change his team’s shape, Zidane changed his pressing scheme, Allegri narrowed his midfield. It was that last change, though, that would help prove decisive, but not in a way that Juventus were looking for.
That’s because just after the start of the second half, Zidane looked at Allegri’s narrower setup and decided to go for broke. He set up his Real Madrid team to go wide at almost all costs, looking to overload Juventus on the flanks and create attacking opportunities that way. Real Madrid were frequently able to get Luka Modrić and Dani Carvajal isolating Alex Sandro on their right side of the pitch, and Marcelo plus either Isco or Benzema doubling down on Andrea Barzagli on their left — and that overload paid dividends in a hurry.
Juventus struggled to deal with Real Madrid’s new game plan, and for some unknown reason, Allegri never made a change of his own to counter Zidane’s bold move. Instead, Juventus tried to play through it, hoping that supremacy in the center of the pitch would let them weather the storm. That proved to be a poor decision, and it cost them the match.
First came Real Madrid’s 61st minute goal, which on the surface wouldn’t have to do with that wide strategy, as it came from Casemiro pouncing on a loose ball at the top of the box to hammer home a fortunate, deflected goal that caught everyone off guard.
But how that ball got loose is important — it started with Benzema and Marcelo working over Barzagli, with Benzema beating the Italian one-on-one before crossing the ball in for Toni Kroos to rocket at Gianluigi Buffon. Juventus’ legendary keeper made a great reaction save, but he couldn’t do anything when the rebound trickled out for Casemiro to run onto.
Then came Ronaldo’s second goal, which absolutely showed just how effective Real Madrid’s wide strategy worked. Modrić and Carvajal combined to absolutely tie Sandro in knots, with the Brazilian fullback struggling to keep up with the Madrid duo. Modrić was able to get to the byline and fire in a cross to the near post, which Ronaldo turned in with ease.
Those two goals, scored just a few short minutes apart, exploited the one major tactical mistake that Allegri made in the match, and it completely knocked Juventus out of the match. Allegri not responding to Zidane’s adjustment was uncharacteristic and ultimately self-defeating — and it cost Juventus any chance that they had of winning the match.
It’s something Allegri is going to have to deal with, and he’ll have to figure out over the course of the summer what went wrong in his decision-making process — while Zidane will start getting more plaudits as a good tactical manager, because he just outwitted one of the better minds in Europe.