The final for the most prestigious trophy in club football is all set to take off this Saturday at the picturesque Stadio San Siro in Milan, Italy. Exemplifying the recent Spanish domination in European club football, Real Madrid will lock horns with cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. These two teams have already faced each other in the Champions league 2014 final, which was one of the most exhilarating finals the UEFA Champions League has ever seen. Here’s a look at what these arch-rivals could be having in store for fans all around the globe who would be tuning in to watch the clash on Saturday night:
The defense has been the backbone of Atletico Madrid’s campaign throughout the season. They have been miserly in terms of giving away goals to the opposition, conceding just 30 in 56 matches across all competitions that they have participated in. Diego Godin has been impressive in the center of the defense throughout the season and will be crucial for Atletico to tackle Real’s ferocious attackers. Fullbacks Juanfran and Felipe Luis have also done their defensive duties well, apart from initiating the counter-attack for Atletico. With no injuries in Atletico’s defensive department, breaching one of the best defensive lineups in Europe will surely be one of the biggest challenges for Real Madrid.
Real Madrid’s defense on the contrary has been the worst among the top three teams in Spain, as they have conceded 42 goals in 51 matches across all competitions. Sergio Ramos is as important to this Real Madrid team as is Cristiano Ronaldo. As Raphael Varane is has been ruled out, Pepe and Ramos are expected to man the defense for Real Madrid. Marcelo and Danilo/Dani Carvajal are also vital players for Real’s counter-attacking play.
The midfielders have played a key role in Diego Simeone’s tactics. Saul Niguez, Gabi and Koke have provided additional support to the back four, which also helps the full-backs to trigger Atletico’s lethal counter-attack. With the return of Tiago from an injury lay-off, Simeone is not short of options for his midfield lineup.
Real Madrid’s midfield is heavily dependent on Luka Modric as the Croatian midfielder has to provide support to the defense, apart from going forward and creating chances for Real’s attackers. But with the recent string of good performances from Casemiro at the base of the midfield, he could well be in the starting lineup on Saturday. He provides the much needed stability and also allows Modric and Toni Kroos to move forward freely.
Antoine Griezmann will be the man to watch out for Atletico Madrid as the French forward, who has netted 32 goals in 52 matches for Atletico this season, will look to cap off a spectacular goal-scoring season by helping Atletico to win the Champions League title. Fernando Torres, too, has found his goal-scoring form towards the end of the season, which will bode well for Atleti.
Real Madrid are a team who have always been synonymous with goal-scoring. They have the prolific trio of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano, whose deadliness is rivaled by few teams on the planet. Los Blancos have scored an incredible 137 goals across all competitions this season, the most by any team in Europe. They have nullified their defensive shortcomings by being equally magnificent in front of goal. Ronaldo gave a scare to the Real Madrid fans by limping out of a training session on Tuesday, but he later assured that he would be 100% fit for the final.
Perhaps the most remarkable fact of this clash is that the managers of both teams, Diego Simeone and Zinedine Zidane, have played for Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid themselves. They know better than anyone else, how it feels and what it takes to defeat their rivals in the most testing times. Simeone has proved his consummate tactical acumen by defeating title favourites Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the previous two rounds. Although Zidane has given better results coming on as manager mid-season after the sacking of Rafa Benitez, Real Madrid’s performances against Wolfsburg and Manchester City in the quarter-finals and semi-finals was under-whelming. Zidane will be looking to book his place among the elite few who have had the privilege of winning the Champions League title both as player and manager, but it would be a mountain of a challenge against Simeone.
Atletico Madrid have always been perhaps the most under-rated team among European heavyweights while Real Madrid have been the clear favourites against most opposition. Atletico Madrid were in the Champions League final after almost 40 years in 2014, but Ramos and Bale ensured that Atletico’s wait for European supremacy would not be over in the dying minutes of that game and in the process, Real Madrid collected a record 10th Champions League title.
This time around though, the odds are slightly in favour of Atletico Madrid. But the motivation to win ‘La UnDecima’ will surely bring the best out of an already clinical Real Madrid team. This Champions League final has all the ingredients of a mouth-watering clash and could well be more exciting than the final of the 2014 edition of the elite tournament.