In 2014 it was Saturday 24th May at the Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal.
In 2016 on Saturday 28th May there will also be a Madrid Derby in the Champions League Final this time the venue is the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy and I cannot wait.
It will be interesting to see who will actually be favourites as we approach kick off for this one as both teams have claims, however I would imagine Real will end up with that tag as they are specialists in this competition with just the 10 titles!!! Atletico will be looking for their first after heart breaking late equalizers in their 2 finals to date followed by being overwhelmed (in a replay 4-0 in 1974 versus Bayern Munich and in the 2014 final losing 4-1 in extra time).
10 TIMES CHAMPIONS
Real’s progress has been pretty serene throughout the competition though in my opinion they have had a more straightforward route. Their group stage opponents comprised of Molde, Paris Saint-Germain and Shakhtar Donetsk. They duly topped the group before a 4-0 aggregate victory over Roma in the Round of 16. They drew what many regarded as the ‘gimme’ draw against Wolfsburg in the quarter finals, but left Germany, like they have done on numerous occasions, with their tail between their legs after a 2-0 defeat, however their outstanding home record in the competition (19 goals and none conceded throughout the tournament) continued when a Ronaldo hat-trick overturned the deficit with a 3-0 win. A dour (entertainment wise) last four tie ensued against first time semi-finalists Manchester City and it took an own goal in the second leg at the Bernabeu to put the Spanish side through, though over the 2 legs they were the better team and most definitely deserved their place in the final – The ‘UNDECIMO’ is on.
ITS BEEN TOUGH GOING
Atletico have had a much tougher route to the final – whilst their group, which consisted of Astana, Benfica and Galatasaray was comparable to Real’s, Atletico also topped their group, the opponents they faced in the knockout stages were most definitely not so. Just like last year they had to do it the hard way in the round of 16, winning on penalties after a scoreless 210+ minutes against PSV Eindhoven, the shootout was dramatic and ended 8-7 which must have steeled an already very obdurate team even more for what was coming next. Drawn against defending champions Barcelona in the quarter final, they overcame a sending off in the Nou Camp to deservedly vanquish the holders. You would normally hope for a bit of luck in the next draw, but no chance, Bayern Munich, the favourites, the Bundesliga champions elect at the time and under the charge of Pep Guardiola. A home win followed 1-0 at the Vicente Calderon; this gave them something to hold onto when they went to the Allianz Arena in Munich. Inevitably they struggled to weather the early storm and at 1-0 down and with a penalty against them all seemed lost. However Oblak saved and this was the turning point. They found their composure and got an equalizer through Antoine Griezmann and despite Bayern restoring their lead on the night they survived a late onslaught and won through to their third final, on away goals, and boy did they deserve it looking at their route to the final. The ‘UNO’ is on.
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Looking at the managers – Zinedine Zidane is a Real Madrid legend, how can you forget his winner in the 2002 final. But actually just a rookie as the main man in charge. He has experience of these big games though as he was Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant in 2014. The club moved him to manage their ‘B’ team to get experience before a future crack at the first team job but the SOS call came much sooner than expected in January of this year after the sacking of Rafa Benitez. He quickly gained the respect of the players and despite the odd hiccup they have gone on a fantastic run (including a come from behind victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp) with a pragmatic approach where necessary. Nobody can say it hasn’t worked as they have reached this final and so nearly won La Liga, they got to within a point after being miles behind early this year. But as I have mentioned before in previous blogs, the Champions League is seemingly always their number one target every season.
The man at Madrid’s ‘other club’ (as called by Los Blancos) has to go down as right up there as one of the best managers in Europe. Diego Simeone also played for the club he now manages, as a player he won a League and cup double in 1996. However it is his time as the ‘bossman’ that will be remembered mostly by anyone associated with the Rojiblancos. He arrived in December 2011 and won the Europa League that season, the UEFA Super Cup followed in 2012 and 2013 brought the Copa Del-Rey. The following season he secured the teams first La Liga title since the one he won as a player in 1996. In 2014 they also won the Supercopa de España (the Spanish version of the Community Shield) and got to the final of the aforementioned Champions League against their city rivals. Last season was the first season in his tenure without a trophy, but the fans weren’t disappointed at all because since his arrival in December 2011 he has won every trophy that is possible to win as a manager of a La Liga team apart from one – yes you have guessed it the Champions League and he now has his second bite at this particular cherry.
So what is going to happen in that grand old stadium on the final Saturday of May. Well in my opinion I think we are going to see a new teams names on ‘Old Big Ears’. Atletico have been so unlucky in this competition the complete opposite of their city rivals. But that pain can be healed as they will know they have no rights to win this tournament unless they earn the right. Real will be there to try and stop them just like they have in the last two years in the Champions League (people forget they met in last years quarter final a tetchy 180 minutes settled in the 88th minute of the second leg). Atletico know they can beat Real as they have a fantastic recent domestic record against them. I have predicted the correct score (after 90 minutes) in the last two Champions League finals on this blog, heres my attempt at the ‘threepeat’. Atletico to take the spoils 2-1 and become the newest team since Borussia Dortmund in 1997 to lift the famous trophy.
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