So, Bale vs Adrian, Modric vs Koke, Di Maria v Felipe Luis, Ramos vs Godin, Casillas v Courtois, Ronaldo vs Diego Costa (injury permitting!!!!!!! – though Isco v Villa aren’t bad replacements), just to name a few of the mouthwatering match ups in this years final of Europe’s premier cup competition however more importantly for both clubs its a potential 10th title vs a potential 1st title, the Los Blancos vs Los Rojiblancos – Madrid at a standstill – ROLL ON MAY 24TH!!!!!!!
Real Madrid will play Atletico Madrid at the Estadio da Luz, Lisboa this coming Saturday for the old ‘big-eared’ cup. We have had Champions League finals contested with teams from the same country, but this will be the first one with teams from the same city – adding even more spice. Real Madrid, the darlings of the Spanish capital and their royal family against their ‘ickle’ neighbours at the Vicente Calderon on the outskirts of the city. A mouth-watering match if ever there was one.
Real Madrid have waited 12 years (and that Zidane wonder goal winner at Hampden Park) for the opportunity to add to their 9 European titles. They have progressed through to the first final since then, pretty comfortably apart from a massive scare in the 2nd leg of the quarter final at Dortmund where they nearly lost their 3 goal first leg lead after a fantastic fightback by last seasons finalists. However they got back on track in the semi’s with a 5-0 aggregate victory over the holders, Bayern Munich, and their nemesis Pep Guardiola. The 4-0 win in the Allianz was the perfect away performance (in complete contrast to the previous rounds away effort). They go into the final as slight favourites in my opinion.
Atletico Madrid have had a season from the gods. They have just won their 10th La Liga title besting Real and Barcelona over 38 games on a fraction of the budget and will be going into the final on a massive high. Like Borussia Dortmund a year ago they are a bit of a surprise package but no one can deny the fact that they fully deserve to be in the showpiece game, especially if you factor in their defeats of AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea (12 European titles between them) in the knockout phases of the tournament and anyone watching would say those victories were no fluke. They are unbeaten throughout with their brand of compact football, with a strong defence and midfield with a counterattacking thrust spearheaded by some outstanding attacking players, who adapt to the required formation.
So where will the game be won or lost. Both teams love to counter-attack, though in my opinion they go about it in slightly different ways. Atletico have a very compact and combative defence. Both full backs (Juanfran and Filipe Luis) do push forward but are fully aware of their defensive duties. The centre backs get plenty of protection from a well drilled midfield (usually three of Gabi, Suarez, Koke and Tiago) who cover a ridiculous amount of turf. The plan is to get the ball to their attacking players (a combination of Costa, Arda Turan, Villa, Adrian, Diego, Raul Garcia) who then strike with a directness and purpose. Simeone has analysed opposition teams superbly this season in regards to picking the correct combination needed to succeed dependent on who he is facing and is not afraid in the slightest to change tactics during a match if things are not working.
Real’s plan is basically get the ball to their attacking foursome as quickly as possible once the ball is wrestled back by a strong midfield of Modric and Alonso (though he is suspended for the final) backed up by a defence that their manager Carlo Ancelotti has worked miracles on to make them much harder to breakdown as the season has gone on. Once this is done it is left to what I call the quadteam of destruction to get to work and with Di Maria reenergised, Bale settling in superbly, Benzema stepping up to a plate on a much more consistent basis and of course Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo (so hoping he is fit to play at least some part) as the ‘Piece de resistance’. If they are not kept in check then beating Real is just not going to happen – just ask Bayern Munich.
What can we say about the two managers? Well Carlo Ancelotti is a European Cup veteran and specialist. He has won the trophy twice when at AC Milan, with defeat against Liverpool in that amazing Istanbul 2005 final – one I am sure he is still trying to forget. He has been credited by the players at Real of bringing the dressing room together after some turbulent times under Jose Mourinho and getting the Whites of Madrid to their first European Cup Final in 12 years is just reward. Obviously the plan is now to go and win it. In complete contrast Diego Simeone is in his first year managing a club in the Champions League and what a job he has done. As mentioned earlier they are unbeaten and do not look out of place in this competition despite their lack of experience. Compared to Ancelotti he is a proper novice when it comes to competing at this level, however the Italian has probably not met many managers who are as cerebral and cunning as the Argentinian, who knows how to adapt as and when necessary before and during games. It will be fascinating to see how they both approach the game in terms of their demeanour and manner on the touchline. One thing to note since Simeone took over the Reds and Whites of Madrid they have won the following, Europa League, European Super Cup, Copa Del Rey and La Liga in less than two and a half years – a remarkable achievement – just one more needed for the full set!!!!!!!
The Madrid rivals have actually met four times already this season with Atletico winning 0-1 at the Bernabeu in the league, before Real beat them home and away in the semi finals of the Copa Del Rey on their way to winning the competition. The return league game ended in a 2-2 draw at the Vicente Calderon (late Ronaldo equaliser) that was in early March.
Ok time to get off the fence – its just my opinion but I’m going for the slight underdogs. It does niggle me slightly that Dortmund came into the final last year unbeaten and their only defeat in the whole tournament was the most important match!!!!!!! However I think Atletico can spoil the party and stop their city rivals, who have for so so so long, lauded it over them. The fact that there are a few injury concerns (on both sides) my thoughts are that Atletico can adapt better to these types of disruptions and have shown this all season, furthermore all the pressure is on their illustrious neighbours as defeat will be seen as failure. 2-1 Atletico (maybe after extra time) – LA PRIMERA here we come???????
Let me know what you think – you can also tweet me @biggishmouth or go to my facebook page at www.facebook.com/thebiggishmouth