Finally, after a long, hard-fought road to Milan, the Champions League final is here! And like it was in 2014, the European champion will be Spanish and from Madrid, but the question everyone is asking is: will it be Real or Atlético that will hoist the European Cup and will represent UEFA in the 2016 edition of the FIFA Club World Cup?
Many would say that Real has the psychological advantage with that 2014 Champions League final probably still on Atlético’s mind, but since that final both these teams have played 10 games and Real has only won one of them. Atléti has taken five out of the last 10 and Real has managed to draw four of those, so Atlético should be walking in a bit more comfortable knowing they have a slight edge over their rival.
However, aside from that fact, Real Madrid has been playing out of their minds as out of their last 17 matches they have lost only one and drawn one.
But those statistics matter not going into Saturday’s final, as anything can happen and no one knows that better than Real Madrid boss Zinédine Zidane. The Real manager spoke about how tough he expects the matchup against their in-city rivals, “Atlético are special opponents; they’ve beaten the two other best teams in Europe, so it will be a very difficult game. They will defend really well as they always do, but I don’t think you can say that Atlético Madrid are a team that only defends; they play good football too, and can make it difficult for their opponents.”
Going into this match there has been talk about Cristiano Ronaldo’s (who is the leading Champions League scorer with 16 goals) health as a lingering thigh injury has him going into this match at less than optimal health, especially after limping out of a training session after colliding with Kiko Casilla on Tuesday. However, he quelled any worries and assured he is fine, and we should be seeing him in the Real starting XI on Saturday.
With Ronaldo’s confidence that he is healthy enough to play, Real Madrid’s lineup is projected to look something like this: Navas, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Kroos, Modrić, Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
Meanwhile, Atlético’s lineup is most certain to look like: Oblak, Juanfran, Godín, Giménez, Filipe Luís, Koke, Gabi, Fernández, Ñíguez, Griezmann, Torres.
Atlético manager Diego Simeone spoke about how his team has changed since 2014, and has stated that Real hasn’t changed much since then, seeing that as an advantage. “We’re not really going to change much for this game — neither team will. Madrid haven’t changed much [since 2014]; we’ve changed more but we have the same structure. Casemiro makes Madrid a lot more dangerous on the counterattack — that’s how they played in both [semi-final] legs against Manchester City.”
He continued, “Many people think that’s bad — not me. There could be different situations during the game but it’s clear that, if you give Madrid space, they’re very dangerous.”
Atlético Madrid is really one of the surprises of this season as they had to battle through very tough opponents to get to this final, having to beat two of the winners of the past three Champions League trophies in Barcelona and Bayern Munich and now will have to face the third of those champions in Real Madrid.
Truly, one of the bigger names to come out of this tournament has been Antoine Griezmann, who has come up big for Atléti with seven goals in the tournament. Another name that has Real Madrid worried is the rojiblancos’ goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who was named the best keeper in La Liga. This, and the fact that he has only conceded 18 goals in 38 games, equalling a record set by La Coruña’s Paco Liaño for least goals conceded in a season.
But Saturday will be a new day for both teams as they hope to achieve European greatness, Atlético hoping to win their first Champions League title and Real going for la undécima (11th title), we can be assured this Madrid derby will be an exhilarating one.
Will it reach epic, heart-stopping 2014 levels? We will have to tune in to see.