It’s a local derby, a contrast in playing styles, two managers eager to stake their claim in Europe’s elite competition and an element of revenge – the Champions League final between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid seems to have all the ingredients to be a cracker in Milan.
Real Madrid are searching for their eleventh crown in the competition while neighbours Atleti are searching for their first.
The two teams are opposites; Real represents football’s glitz and glamour with Ronaldo and Bale while Atleti possess the grafters and rugged approach who have made their way to the final through collective team spirit.
This is the second meeting between the sides; a repeat of the 2014 final where Real captured the long awaited ‘La Decima’ while Atleti were within seconds of defying the odds after a late Sergio Ramos equaliser saw the game go to extra time.
You have to praise both managers with Diego Simeone rebuilding his side after an exodus of prime talent in the following summer, seeing Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Filipe Luis heading to Chelsea whilst Arda Turan has also joined the ranks of players that have left, heading to Barca last summer.
At the Bernabeu Zinedine Zidane has been able to reverse the fortunes of a side that were slowly being swallowed by current Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez. Faltering in the league, Los Blancos finishing the season with 12 straight victories – including a 2-1 triumph over arch-rivals Barcelona but missed out on the title by a single point.
Whichever way you look at this final, it’s an intriguing one with both Madrid sides looking to make history.
The importance of Ronaldo turning up
Another stellar campaign for the former Man United man, with 50 plus goals for the sixth successive season to cement his place as one of the greatest players in Real Madrid’s history.
The Champions League has been a competition in which the Portuguese has excelled, this season scoring 16 goals in 11 appearances to move within one of equalling the competition’s all-time single-season record of 17 – which he set two years ago.
Atleti have provided somewhat of a stumbling block for Ronaldo though, who has failed to score in his last five appearances against them, a credit to the defensive shape of Atleti for managing to shut out one of world football’s most potent attacking forces.
There has been growing concern over his fitness of Ronaldo after he limped out of training on Tuesday, however he was quick to dismiss reports suggesting he could miss the final (although Zidane will have Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale raring to go with Bale coming into the game in superb form with four goals in his last six outings).
Could Atleti get revenge for the lost final two years ago? Whilst some would say yes, it could be argued that as professionals Simeone’s side have moved on and instead 2014 will simply act as motivation for those Atleti’s players who were within seconds of a first European crown.
The only other European Final they played in, they also lost 1974 against Bayern Munich, when former Spain manager Luis Aragones equalised in the last minute of extra time to send the final to a replay, so is it third time lucky for the Spaniards?
It’s the only trophy that Simeone hasn’t won as manager of Atletico Madrid and after the disappointment of two years ago, it will be a final he will loathe to lose.
Simeone’s team have enjoyed almost complete dominance over their more illustrious local rivals in recent years, losing only one of their 10 meetings since their last Champions League final duel two years ago.
Atleti will no doubt play how they usually play with that organised (defensive) approach which has seen them knock out Barcelona and Bayern Munich on their way to Milan with the onus on Zidane’s Real to take the game to their rivals.
Diego Simeone has instilled a never-say-die attitude in these players which is rarely broken, a desire and hunger to win football matches is the biggest asset his players have and it’s evident in their performances.
Similar to the final of 2014, I can see this being very cagey affair with both sides eager to not give an inch. We saw two years ago how hard Madrid had to dig to get the equaliser, you wouldn’t imagine those players will want to be in a similar position come Saturday evening.
The likes of Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema, Griezmann, Koke and Torres will have to deliver the magic for their respective sides, the defence of Atleti will be as resolute as ever with Godin and Gimenez eager to keep Real out whilst Marcelo and Carvajal will look to bomb down the flanks and support their side’s attacks.
A compelling tie awaits us all in Milan with the two bitter city rivals meeting on Saturday night to be crowned Champions of Europe, will it be a record eleventh time for Zidane’s men or will Simeone look to create history with a memorable first crown for the club?