The last time Madrid’s two biggest football teams met in the Champions League final – just two years ago in
Lisbon – the game had to be decided in extra time after 90 minutes wasn’t enough to separate them, and tonight’s contest promises to be even closer.
With the two sides inseparable and many unable to call a favourite in the tie, we look at where the final may be won and lost.
There will be much talk of the differences between the opponents before they clash in Milan, particularly with Diego Simeone’s fondness for playing up his side’s poor underdog status when they meet, but the fact is that for all their differences, they currently play a pretty similar style of football.
Just as Atletico have been for the last couple of years with Simeone at the helm, Real have been a very difficult side to break down since Zinedine Zidane took charge, playing very compactly at the back and looking to counter at speed just like their foes.
The question is who will be able to do so best on Saturday, with the similarities creating a game akin to a chess match, in which any tactical alterations made by the managers will be crucial.
In 2014’s final, Atletico’s main deficiency was that they lacked a potent threat in attack, with Diego Costa coming into the game unfit and having to leave the pitch after just nine minutes.
Now, however, the men from the Estadio Vicente Calderon head into the final with one of Europe’s most lethal attackers in Antoine Griezmann, and the Frenchman has none of the injury worries which troubled Costa two years ago. Similarly for Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo will be hoping to punish the Atletico defence after looking jaded in the previous final, although questions over his thigh will persist well into the match itself.
With both sides looking increasingly strong at the back, though, a lot could depend on which of the two enormous talents can trouble the opposition the most.
When Real Madrid lifted the aforementioned La Decima in 2014, their rivals were forced to watch on as Ronaldo tore off his shirt in celebration of a humiliating fourth goal, with Los Colchoneros having been just over a minute away from victory before Sergio Ramos took the game to extra-time.
Now, for all the talking down of ‘revenge’ from the players, Simeone’s men will be desperate to inflict exactly that upon their enemy. The danger might be for Atletico that they are indeed too desperate, with Real potentially able to capitalize on their desperation by proving the more collected side, using the mental edge that beating Atleti twice in key European clashes might give.
On the other hand, if Atletico can use memories of Lisbon as inspiration while maintaining their calm, Madrid may face a very difficult task in keeping them at bay.
Real stars face up to failure
If Real Madrid are to call this season a success, they must beat Atletico Madrid in tonight’s Champions League final. Having beaten their city rivals at the same stage two years ago, to win La Decima, Los Blancos will be confident of a repeat result at Milan’s Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
With Barcelona having won both the other major trophies within Real’s reach, Zinedine Zidane must deliver an eleventh European Cup, despite only taking charge of the club in January.
Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, who were key men in the victory over Atleti in Lisbon in 2014, share that sentiment.
“It will be a failure to not win, but we will,” said Ronaldo. “Reaching the final is nothing without victory at the end,” added Bale.
Stars set for set-pieces
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid face each other in the Champions League final tonight knowing the importance of set-pieces in the match. Atleti can no longer claim to be as dominant from dead ball situations, but they will have to ensure they are at their best against their local rivals.
Diego Godin is the main aerial threat of Los Rojiblancos, whilst Tiago, Jose Gimenez and Fernando Torres also cause danger. However, the loss of specialists Mario Mandzukic and Raul Garcia means that they now have less physicality and stature in these positions. Real have scored more goals from free-kicks, with 13 in comparison to Atleti’s six. Gareth Bale has netted 47% of his goals through headers, while Ramos, Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo are also equipped in this area.
Both teams will understand the significance of these minor details, as it would not be the first time that a trophy has been won in this manner.