The Portuguese capital of Lisbon will be invaded by the citizens of Madrid as the two biggest clubs from the Spanish capital will meet each other in the Champions League Final at Estadio da Luz. This will be the first time in Champions League history that two clubs from the same city will face each other for the biggest prize in European club football.
Atletico have enjoyed an outstanding season, winning their first La Liga title since 1996, as well as reaching their first European Cup Final since 1974. El Alteti topped Group G in the Group Stage, then followed that by eliminating AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea in the knockout stages.
Real Madrid finished a disappointing third place in La Liga, but did secure the Copa Del Ray title, which included a dominating 5-0 aggregate victory over Atletico in the semifinals. Los Blancos topped Group B in the Group Stage, then proceeded to eliminate three German sides, Schalke, Borussia Dortmund and defending champions Bayern Munich in the knockout stages.
El Derbi Madrileno aka The Madrid Derby is known for its contrasting identities. Real Madrid are the establishment, the team of royalty and prestige. Atletico are the rebels or as they say in Madrid, sentimento de rebeldia or sentiment of rebellion. But it is Real Madrid that have had the better success. The establishment have won 143 matches compared to 64 victories for the rebels in El Derbi Madrileno.
Atletico did suffer a major blow to their European title hopes as striker Diego Costa will miss the match due to a hamstring tear he suffered in the La Liga finale versus Barcelona. The Brazilian born, Spanish International led Atletico with 36 goals in all competitions including 8 goals in the Champions League. His absence is a devastating loss for Atletico who will need to find goals from other sources.
Atletico usually goes with a 4-4-2 formation, while playing a punishing, physical style of football. David Villa and Adrian are expected to be the two strikers for Atletico. Adrian is expected to replace Costa in the starting eleven.
The midfield is a mix of skill and brute force. Raul Lopez and Koke are adept passers who are fluid in their motion. Both have ability to finish scoring opportunities when presented and may need to bring their scoring boots if Costa isn’t available.
Turkish International Arda Turan suffered a hamstring injury against Barcelona, but his prognosis is promising and should be in the lineup. Tiago is a forceful tackler who can punish attackers with his physical style. Gabi is another option in the midfield for Diego Simeone’s club.
The back four just might be the most physical defensive backfield in all of Europe. Uruguayan International Diego Godin and Brazilian Miranda are the uncompromising centre backs. Filipe Luis should start at left back while Juanfran should be at right back. This foursome will show no mercy to the glamorous stars on Real Madrid, which will make this a fascinating matchup.
Thibault Courtois is a rising star between the sticks. The Belgian International was superb in Atletico’s final La Liga fixture against Barcelona, as well as in their semifinal tie against Chelsea. Courtois will have to perform above his high standards, if Atletico wants to hoist the European Cup.
Real Madrid are flexible in their formation. They often go to a 4-3-3 but will switch to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-2-1 depending on the situation within the game.
The big concern for Real Madrid is the health of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar pulled himself out of the last La Liga match against Espanyol, complaining of a nagging hamstring problem. Ronaldo has not participated in training throughout the week but manager Carlo Ancelotti insists that Ronaldo will be fit and ready to go for the final.
Welsh International Gareth Bale is expected to be fit for Saturday’s clash, despite missing the last two matches for Real Madrid due to injury. French striker Karim Benzema is questionable due to an adductor injury as well as a nagging thigh problem. Benzema is perfect in the centre forward spot with Bale and Ronaldo flanking him. It would be a blow for Real if Benzema cannot play.
The midfield is ever-shifting and could produce a surprise or two. Angel di Maria and Isco split time in the attacking midfielder spot and either one could be in the starting eleven. Di Maria, the Argentine International is a natural left-footer who poses issues because of his swinging ability with the left boot. Isco is the younger, faster player but can be undisciplined at times.
Xabi Alonso will miss the final due to suspension, leaving a gaping hole in the Real Madrid midfield. Sami Khedira is a likely replacement and while he is a skilled player, he lacks the discipline and steady assurance that Alonso brings to the pitch. The German International has also missed time due to injury, thus his fitness has come into question. Casemiro and Asier Illarramendi are options as well, but both lack the skill that Alonso possesses.
Luka Modric should be in the starting eleven for Real. The Croatian International is a talented, left-footed midfielder who possesses an exceptional shot. Modric can get caught out of position at times, but has terrific recovery skills. Look for him to play a large role in this match.
Real will have questions at the back. The health of Pepe is a major concern. The Portuguese International is battling a calf injury and Ancelotti is worried that the central defender may not be ready for Saturday’s tilt. If Pepe isn’t available, either Raphael Varne or Nacho Fernandez will have to fill that hole in the central defence.
Sergio Ramos has enjoyed a renaissance this season. The Spanish International has been terrific for Real Madrid this season, and was especially magnificent in their semifinal tie against Bayern Munich. Look for him to carry a bigger load if Pepe cannot participate.
Brazilian International Marcelo is the likely starting left back while Spanish International Daniel Carvajal is the likely right back. Portuguese International Fabio Coentrao could see time as a substitute, if Real Madrid are protecting the lead.
Iker Casillas has had an up-and-down season between the sticks, but the Spanish International is known to rise to the occasion in the biggest matches. Real Madrid will need Casillas to be at his best, if Los Blancos want to win their 10th European crown.
If Real Madrid were fully healthy, this match would be a blowout. But with Benzema, Ronaldo, Pepe and Bale all with nagging injuries, the playing field levels out. Costa’s fitness problems are worrisome for Atletico, as they wonder where they will find goals if their leading scorer can’t play. Derbies are always fascinating and with the biggest prize in Europe up for grabs, it makes El Derbi Madrileno even more intriguing than ever. History is with Real Madrid, as well as the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo is on their side. I say he plays and will be the deciding factor. Ronaldo scores twice as Real Madrid gets their La Decima 3-1.
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