Former master and apprentice will go head-to-head at the Bernabeu on Wednesday when Real Madrid meet Juventus. For Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti it is a match, not only against his former club, but against one of his chief stalwarts for his two seasons in charge at the Stadio delle Alpi, Antonio Conte.
Ancelotti’s time at Juventus ended trophy-less and acrimoniously when he was sacked at half-time of their final Serie A match of the 2000-2001 season, despite the club still being in the running to win the title. But the Italian reflected that his time in charge in Turin had served him well.
“What has changed since I coached Juve? My hair,” he joked, according to UEFA.com. “No, many things. I have more experience now. My experience at Juventus was very important in terms of my growth as a coach and a person. The results were perhaps not great but my experiences and memories from that time are good ones.”
In his short managerial career, Conte has already established a reputation as one of Europe’s finest young coaches. Returning to the club he served so well as a player, the former midfielder led Juventus to their first Scudetto since the Calciopoli scandal and repeated the feat last season. His task is to turn their domestic success into returning to the true European elite. And Conte is eager to emulate the success of both his former coach and Real Madrid.
“I envy the career he’s had -- but in a healthy way,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “He has achieved a lot. My coaching career has started well and I feel happy with how it is going along.
“[Real Madrid] are known all over the world and the team which is acknowledged as being the example to follow. Every season, they hatch plans to win every competition they enter and their coach and the players know that they have to give everything they’ve got in every game.”
While Juventus have been the team to beat in Italy for the past two years, it appears that they will face real competition this season. With both Roma and Napoli beginning strongly, the Bianconeri were eking out wins without being at their best. That talent ran out, though, at the weekend when they surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 at Fiorentina for their first defeat of the campaign. Their Champions League campaign has been even more of a struggle, with Juventus taking just two points from their opening matches against Copenhagen and Galatasaray.
While they top Group B with maximum point so far, it has not been the best start to the season for Madrid, either. The Spanish press has pulled out old stereotypes of Italian catenaccio to criticize Ancelotti’s perceived defensive tactics. Still, a win over Malaga at the weekend and slip-ups by Atletico Madrid and Barcelona leaves them just three points off the top of La Liga.
Big summer signing Gareth Bale made his latest return from injury in that match and could make only his second start for Madrid on Wednesday. Juventus will again be without Mirko Vucinic and Stephan Lichtsteiner, but Arturo Vidal should return to the starting lineup after coming on as a substitute in Florence.
Prediction: There were more encouraging signs for Madrid against Malaga, with only a superb display from goalkeeper Willy Caballero preventing the scoreline from being more emphatic. Ancelotti, though, faces another challenge if he decides that Bale is fit to start. Just how the Welsh attacker is fit into a cohesive system is an intriguing dilemma.
Conte is also faced with some tactical decisions. For the match against Madrid, there are widespread reports that he will revert from the three-man-defense that has served him so well in the past two years and go to a four at the back with Martin Caceres and summer signing Angelo Ogbonna as the two full-backs. That would likely mean a diamond midfield, given Juventus’ wealth of central midfield talent. Conte must also decide whether to have Carlos Tevez as a lone frontman, or partner him with Fernando Llorente, who has yet to make an impression since moving from Athletic Bilbao.
Such tactics might provide better protection from Madrid’s threat out wide, but it would be a bold move. Juventus appear to have lost some intensity of late, while Saturday’s defeat will also likely have damaged confidence. In contrast, Madrid appear to be heading in the right direction and home advantage should mean they just secure a narrow win.
Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus
Where to watch: The Champions League Group B match will kick off from the Bernabeu at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Sports 2, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.