Zidane must sort out defence or forget about Champions League glory
Madrid won't beat Juventus in final unless defence improves
Real Madrid are almost a team of two halves.
As expected, Zinedine Zidane's men reached their second consecutive Champions League final yesterday morning (Singapore time) with a 4-2 aggregate win over Atletico Madrid despite losing 2-1 in the second leg.
But Juventus are waiting. The Italian giants are a collection of miserly gatekeepers who give away goals like Scrooge gives pennies to paupers.
Their greatest strength happens to be the Spanish side's most glaring weakness.
As Real's defeat by Atletico demonstrated, all is not well at the back.
The average player ratings tell a distinct Jekyll and Hyde story of the good, the bad and the ugly defending.
A generous selection of eights and nines were awarded to most of the Meringues on the other side of the halfway line.
Karim Benzema earned high marks for his dazzling turn, dribble and escape from a clutch of dizzy defenders to set up Real's decisive away goal.
Isco Rodriguez tapped the ball home and perhaps pinched Man-of-the-Match honours, ably filling the fragile boots of the absent Gareth Bale.
The Real Madrid defence has no weight to it, no substance, apart from Sergio Ramos. Juventus are strong, they seem like a tank.Former AC Milan coach Arrigo sacchi believes Juventus will beat Real Madrid in the final
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric earned plaudits for controlling possession in midfield.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the obvious exception, managing fewer passes than Keylor Navas.
But he has bigger fish to fry in the final, namely the three Italian henchmen protecting Gianluigi Buffon's goal.
And then, Real's players' ratings fell away. The rest were mostly a ragged bunch of fours and fives, a fair reflection of too many missteps and errors of judgment.
Casemiro didn't always successfully shield the back four and was eventually substituted.
Sergio Ramos had another of those nights where his prodigious talent was handicapped by his decision to leave his head in the dressing room.
His tongue ran away with him. He picked up a needless booking when Real were 2-0 down. Real pulses quicken in such moments.
Fortunately, Ramos found his head shortly after Raphael Varane lost his.
Varane's foolish foul on Fernando Torres rightly earned Atletico a penalty.
Real had already conceded the opener from a routine set-piece seemingly designed on a kindergarten whiteboard.
Corner. Cross. Header. Goal.
It was the rudimentary tactics of the school playground, the kind that Juventus rarely fall for.
Navas got a hand to the header, just as he did for the penalty, just as he did for a dramatic double save in the second half.
But the goalkeeper still polarises more than he impresses. Navas leaps like a salmon, but his hands flap like a goldfish in a puddle.
The penalty should have been palmed away. And the second block in his double save was made necessary only after he failed to push the first effort to safety.
He's a goalkeeper who convinces only intermittently. David de Gea's signature must be Real's post-season priority.
In La Liga, Real have conceded five goals more than Barcelona (39 to 34), despite the Catalan side's obvious defensive issues.
Atletico (25) and Villarreal (32) are also better off at the back.
Even Athletic Bilbao, down in sixth position, have conceded the same number of goals as Real, despite playing a game more.
Real's porous back four will keep Zidane busy in the summer's transfer market, but his immediate concern is at right back.
Dani Carvajal's recent injury has left enough space for Alex Sandro and Mario Mandzukic to potentially stage a Champions League party in Cardiff.
Danilo attempted to mind the gap against Atletico, but Yannick Carrasco and Koke picked the Brazilian's pocket more times than a street urchin.
Had Atletico targeted Real's obvious weak link more often, then the Vicente Calderon might have witnessed a fairy-tale ending.
Nacho Fernandez would be the alternative at right back in the Champions League final, but Juve's wily coach Massimiliano Allegri knows there are clear weaknesses to exploit.
Unlike the Old Lady's balanced best XI, Real retain a schizophrenic appearance.
Outstanding in attack and occasionally AWOL in defence, they are too reliant on their mavericks to hide mistakes at the back.
In every sense, Benzema's sublime trickery got himself and his teammates out of a tight spot against Atletico, but it won't be enough against Juventus.
Real must deal with their defence if they want to repeat the trick in the final.
Zidane predicts 'great final' with former club Juventus
Zinedine Zidane insists he will have no divided loyalties after leading Real Madrid to a second consecutive Champions League final where they will meet his old club Juventus on June 3.
Real withstood a first-half onslaught from local rivals Atletico Madrid to progress 4-2 on aggregate despite losing 2-1 in their semi-final, second-leg tie yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Next up are Italian champions Juventus, who sold Zidane to Real Madrid for a then world-record fee of £46 million (S$83m) in 2001.
"For sure, it is special because it was a very important club for me as a player. It is a club that also gave me everything," said Zidane.
"Now, though, I am with Real Madrid, the club of my life and it will be a great final."
Zidane admitted ahead of December's last-16 draw that Juventus were the team he wanted to avoid, due to his respect for Massimiliano Allegri's side, who eased past Monaco 4-1 on aggregate in the other semi-final.
"I can't do anything about it now," added Zidane. "They have got to the final and deserve to be there, as do we."
Ultimately, Cristiano Ronaldo's first-leg hat-trick proved the difference as for the fourth straight season, Real eliminated Atletico from the Champions League.
Atletico had threatened an incredible comeback, as Saul Niguez's powerful header and Antoine Griezmann's penalty inside 16 minutes cut Real's aggregate lead to a solitary goal.
However, Isco Rodriguez's away goal just before half-time settled Real's nerves.
"We knew they would start very strongly," said Ronaldo.
"They had the luck to score two goals but, we know that if we scored, that would kill them.
"They played well, but we have more experience."
Despite the disappointment of bowing out to Real once more, Atletico boss Diego Simeone insists Atletico will have a bright future.
"It is clear that we still need to keep growing. That final step is still a big one and we need to keep improving," said the Argentinian. "If we can improve on this, then the future is encouraging." - AFP