Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid: Champions League final preview

By Andy WestSpanish football writer
Real Madrid lifted the Champions League trophy when the two sides previously met in 2014
Real Madrid lifted the Champions League trophy when the two sides previously met in 2014
Champions League final: Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid
Venue: San Siro, Milan Date: 28 May Kick-off: 19:45
Coverage: Listen to BBC Radio 5 live commentary plus follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app

From a local derby to a high-powered managerial duel, a clash of styles to a revenge-packed rematch, Saturday's Champions League final between Real and Atletico Madrid offers a bit of everything.

Glam and glitzy Real are aiming for their 11th European crown, while down and dirty neighbours Atletico are gunning for their very first.

Real scored 110 league goals this season; Atletico mustered only 63. But Real conceded 34, while their miserly opponents allowed just 18.

One team boasts a galaxy of superstars who sometimes struggle for collective cohesion; the other relies on a lesser-known cast of workers who sacrifice personal glory for the good of the group.

Whichever way you look at it, this climax to the European domestic season contains plenty of intriguing storylines. Here, BBC Sport examines the most compelling.

Zidane under scrutiny

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane could become the seventh man to win the Champions League/European Cup as a player and a manager

Guiding your team into the Champions League final less than five months into your first managerial job at senior level is no mean achievement.

And when you consider Zinedine Zidane also reignited Real Madrid's previously faltering La Liga challenge by finishing the season with 12 straight victories - including a 2-1 triumph over arch-rivals Barcelona - you might think the French coach had already earned himself job security.

The soap opera life at the Bernabeu, however, has seen Zidane face questions over his future in virtually every news conference he has held in recent weeks.

At probably any other club, Zidane's future would be assured, because he has done an excellent job since taking over from much-maligned predecessor Rafa Benitez in January.

Interestingly, the key turning point came at the end of February when Zidane suffered his first defeat as Real manager, a dispiriting 1-0 home loss against none other than Atletico.

Real's tame performance in that encounter sparked a significant reaction from the recently-appointed coach, who immediately installed defensive midfielder Casemiro into his starting line-up, injecting much-needed strength and solidity into the centre of the pitch.

Casemiro has become fundamental to Zidane's Real, his physical attributes and tactical awareness providing support for the back four and giving the team better balance.

Goals galore but doubts persist over Ronaldo

Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored/assisted 74% of Real Madrid's goals in this season's competition (20 out of 27)

Cristiano Ronaldo has enjoyed another outstanding season, racking up 50-plus goals for the sixth consecutive term to further cement his status as Real's all-time leading goalscorer.

The Portugal forward has particularly shone in the Champions League, 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.

Yet Ronaldo has struggled against this weekend's opponents in the past couple of years, failing to score in any of the past five occasions he has come up against Atletico's limpet-like defence.

Whether we see the free-scoring force of nature of the Champions League or the subdued and frustrated peripheral presence of recent games against Atletico will go a long way towards deciding Saturday's final.

There is also an added complication over Ronaldo's fitness. He has been below 100% since suffering a hamstring injury against Villarreal in April, and provided Los Blancos with another scare when he limped out of Tuesday's training session.

Fortunately for Real, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale appear to be in full working order despite the well-documented off-pitch problems endured by the Frenchman.

Bale has enjoyed a particularly strong season, scoring 19 goals - despite missing chunks of action through injury - to suggest he is ready to slowly supplant Ronaldo as the team's most important attacking force.

The Wales star has scored four goals in his past six games, including late winners against Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad.

Atletico's date with destiny?

Cristiano Ronaldo looks dejected
Atletico Madrid beat Real Madrid 1-0 in the La Liga match in February

Standing in the way of Zidane, Ronaldo, Bale and co are a fiercely-committed Atletico team who are utterly determined to uphold the theory that this weekend is their turn to taste glory.

Atletico have, of course, an additional motivation for revenge after being denied their first European crown two years ago, when Sergio Ramos' injury-time header allowed Real to force extra time. They eventually won at a canter against an exhausted Atletico.

That's not all. Atletico also lost their only other European Cup final in similar circumstances in 1974, when Bayern Munich's Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck cancelled out a goal from the legendary Luis Aragones in the last minute of extra time. In the days before penalty shootouts, Bayern won the replay 4-0.

The Champions League is the only trophy Atletico have failed to win under their remarkable manager Diego Simeone, who lifted the Europa League and Uefa Super Cup in 2012, the Copa del Rey in 2013 plus La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup in 2014.

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.

Following the return from injury of former Chelsea midfielder Tiago, Atletico are heading into the game with a fully-fit squad (except rarely-used full-back Jesus Gamez) and their key players are in top form.

The redemption of Fernando Torres

Atletico Madrid strikers Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann has been directly involved in 50% of Atletico's goals in the Champions League this season, scoring seven and assisting one of Los Colchoneros' 16 goals

If you asked Atletico fans to select their dream scenario for Saturday night, the vast majority would undoubtedly wish for an injury-time winner from the man they idolise, Fernando Torres.

Don't rule it out, because the past few months have been remarkable for the ex-Liverpool and Chelsea striker.

His career appeared to be continuing its downward spiral as he headed into February without a goal in nearly five months, apparently stuck on 99 goals for Atletico forever.

But then Torres finally brought up the century for his boyhood team in a home win against Eibar and, far from providing a sentimental last hurrah from a once-great player as everyone assumed, he has proceeded to play some of the best football of his career.

Torres has netted six times in his past 10 appearances, including a key away goal in the quarter-final clash with Barcelona, as well as forging an increasingly productive understanding with Antoine Griezmann, who received a perfect pass from his strike partner to score the winner in the semi-final tie at Bayern.

He can complete his unexpected renaissance by winning his second Champions League trophy, having first taken the title with Chelsea in 2012.

Another potential match-winner for Atletico is the aforementioned Griezmann, the outstanding and versatile France forward who is poised to established himself as a superstar.

The former Real Sociedad striker has enjoyed a magnificent season, scoring 32 goals in all competitions including the winner in the Bernabeu in February and crucial Champions League strikes against both Barca and Bayern.

Griezmann's pace on the break, his ability to play on either flank or through the middle, and his willingness to carry out the defensive dirty work, all serve to make him a perfect fit for Simeone's system.

The clean sheet kings

Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin
Diego Godin has made more interceptions (37) and defensive clearances (71) than any other player in this season's Champions League

Last weekend, Atletico staged an internal practice match as Simeone pitted his expected XI for the final against the club's reserves, who were lined up in a 4-3-3 formation to copy the tactical approach of Real.

To absolutely nobody's surprise, the game finished 0-0. And there, in a nutshell, is Atletico: they're so good defensively, they can't even score against themselves.

Simeone's men have kept a scarcely-believable 35 clean sheets over the course of the season, equalling La Liga's all-time record by conceding only 18 goals in their 38 games.

Simeone's main selection quandary is in the back four, with former Manchester City misfit Stefan Savic battling against rising Uruguayan star Jose Maria Gimenez for a place alongside the peerless Diego Godin in the heart of defence.

The key to their defensive success, however, lies in their extraordinary collective ability. They work incredibly hard for each other and follow Simeone's precise positional instructions to the letter.

This discipline has seen Atletico repel Real's goal threat in the recent past, keeping four clean sheets in seven encounters.

But don't let those statistics fool you into thinking Atletico are only good in defence: with Griezmann's trickery, Torres's direct running, the progressive play of full-backs Juanfran and Filipe Luis, and the all-round midfield ability of Saul Niguez and Koke, this team is the complete package.

Atletico might not be able to match the big names and fancy skills of Real's superstar squad, but as a collective unit they are arguably superior. And therein lies the big question for Saturday's Champions League final: will individual ability or team organisation prevail?

Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid - the facts

  • Real Madrid have reached the Champions League/European Cup final for the 14th time, more than any other team. They have won 10 of those - also a record - including their past four (1998, 2000, 2002, 2014).
  • This is the third time in the past four years the Champions League final has been contested by teams from the same nation (Germany 2013, Spain 2014, Spain 2016).
  • Including 2016, Madrid has now made 17 appearances in the Champions League/European Cup final (14 for Real, three for Atletico), more than any other city (Milan has 16).
  • Atletico have won seven of their past 16 games against Real Madrid in all competitions (five draws, four losses). They had failed to win any of their previous 25 games against Real (six draws, 19 losses).
  • The past four competitive games between Real and Atletico have produced only four goals (two each).
  • This is the third season in a row in which a manager has reached the Champions League final in his first season in the competition (Diego Simeone 2014, Luis Enrique 2015, Zinedine Zidane 2016).
  • Atletico have kept 15 clean sheets in their last 21 Champions League games, including four in six knockout games this season.


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