How do you fill a Luka Modrić-sized hole? Will Juventus switch to three at the back? Can Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema make a difference? Paolo Menicucci answers.
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Replacing a player with the technical flair and tactical awareness of Luka Modrić is never going to be easy. Carlo Ancelotti has experimented with defender Sergio Ramos in a makeshift role to good effect in the Liga, but the ploy did not pay dividends in the semi-final first leg at Juventus.
Ramos seemed to have positioning problems early in Tuesday's contest, when Carlos Tévez was dropping deep to find gaps between the Real Madrid CF lines. Nor did he offer much in terms of creativity when the visitors had long spells of sterile possession late in the game.
"It wasn't just Sergio [Ramos] – we all made more mistakes than usual, at the back as well," Ancelotti said later. "It was because of the pressure Juve put us under. But Sergio had a decent game."
Statistics back up Ancelotti's words: Ramos completed 87% of his attempted passes (59 out of 69, matching Andrea Pirlo) but the numbers do not tell the whole story. It would be no surprise if a different solution was sought for next Wednesday's return leg, with the UEFA Champions League holders needing to win.
Massimiliano Allegri reacted quickly when Ancelotti introduced Javier Hernández to switch to a three-man front line. On came centre-back Andrea Barzagli and the 4-4-2 became a 3-5-2 system. Like a game of chess: move, counter move.
Requiring a victory – and with Karim Benzema due back from injury – Madrid will probably start with three strikers at the Santiago Bernabéu. Will Allegri field a three-man defence from kick-off? He used that template in the quarter-final return leg at AS Monaco FC, limiting the opposition to one shot on target and earning the desired goalless draw.
However, protecting a narrow lead against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co is a completely different story. "We will have to play even better than we did in Turin and score, otherwise it will be difficult to reach the final," Allegri said.
A 4-3-1-2 formation is the most likely answer also because Juve have Paul Pogba back from his thigh problem. "I hope to give him a run-out on Saturday [against Cagliari Calcio in Serie A]," the Bianconeri boss said immediately after the first leg.
The France midfielder had not played since mid-March but showed no sign of rustiness, scoring on his is return – a huge boost for Juventus and their aspirations of progressing to the UEFA Champions League final.