Their UEFA Champions League final experience could hardly be more different but the coaches of Real Madrid CF and Club Atlético de Madrid are united in the belief that their meeting in Lisbon will be a tactical battle decided by which set of players receives “the right instructions”.
While nine-time winners Madrid are in their 13th European Cup final – albeit a first for 12 years – Atlético’s only previous venture to this stage ended in disappointment in 1974. This is coach Diego Simeone’s debut season in the UEFA Champions League; his opposite number Carlo Ancelotti, on the other hand, has an association with the competition stretching back almost 30 years.
“I’ve had a lot from this competition; I’ve won it four times, this is my seventh final, so I can’t ask for more,” the Madrid coach said. “Everyone knows how important this competition is for Real Madrid but my job is to do my best to help us win this competition – and we’re very close.”
Atlético have not been in the European Cup final for 40 years but, having lifted the UEFA Europa League in 2010 and 2012, do not lack for big-match experience – a point their coach was keen to stress.
“This is a big opportunity and a big occasion; I don’t feel as overwhelmed as some people seem to think, but I feel the responsibility,” Simeone said. “There’s a lot of people who trust us and I hope we can live up to that.”
Diego Costa (hamstring) and Arda Turan (pelvis) have been having intensive treatments on injuries sustained in last Saturday’s Liga-clinching 1-1 draw at FC Barcelona, and Simeone refused to be drawn on their likely availability – or otherwise.
“They trained better [on Thursday] so we’ll have to see how they train and feel and we’ll decide on that basis,” he explained. “Arda and Costa are just names; they’re both very important players in the team but there’s other players who can come in. We’re prepared for whatever happens.”
On the Madrid side, 16-goal Cristiano Ronaldo missed last weekend’s concluding 3-1 Liga win against RCD Espanyol while Karim Benzema (muscle) and Pepe (calf) are injury doubts. “Cristiano doesn’t have any problems, he’s trained well,” Ancelotti said.
“He is a very important weapon – his statistics are there for everyone to see, and we need him. Pepe and Benzema haven’t trained this week. They have to start training with the others, and then we’ll see.”
Simeone – who could become the third non-European coach to capture the European Cup – was quick to emphasise the importance of “ignoring all external factors” around the biggest game in club football and played down his own role in Atlético’s remarkable successes since his 2011 arrival. “This is amazing; as coaches, we’ve grown as a result of the players that we’ve worked with,” he said.
“I have to work according to what my players need and decide to set up the match in the best way possible. We know where we have to be careful and we’ll try to find ways to go forward. “We’ve just won the Spanish Liga, a lovely success, but there’s work to be done for this unique match”.”
As for the Merengues, Ancelotti knows exactly what will be required from him in the final hours before kick-off. “You can say many things, or you can say nothing. My work is centred on the tactics we’ll use; I have to give very clear instructions to my players. These are the matches where you don’t have to work hard to motivate them – they’re very motivated. I have a lot of dreams right now. You can consider ['La Décima'] an obsession or a dream. My thought is that it’s a dream, and we’d like to reach the dream.”