It’s the Champions League final, the biggest match in club football! Just in case you are wondering, no we haven’t travelled back in time to 2014 (could do with slipping that tenner on Leicester…), it’s just the same final as we had then, as the two Madrid teams battle it out to decide who is this year’s champions of Europe.
Atletico have been my pick since the start of the last 16, so it’s nice to see that they’ve been able to match my expectations, beating probably the two best sides in Europe along the way. Real managed to get to the final with a fairly easy run of fixtures, however if they win nobody will remember that in a few years.
In their respective semi-finals Atletico out smarted Bayern, they played a static counter attacking game, sitting deep and frustrating the Germans, and although the tie finished 2-2, it didn’t really tell the whole story. Real had it really easy against Man City, who looked almost disinterested in having a chance of making a Champions League final. The gap between the two teams was massive, however Real never had to get out of first gear because City never looked like a legitimate threat.
There are no real injury concerns for either team, so we should see both teams field a near full strength side, however there have been reports that Ronaldo picked up a knock in training. There is no doubt in my mind that Ronaldo will play, he has played through pain for a number of seasons now and I very much doubt he’ll miss a Champions League final, you could break his leg and he’d still want to be starting. The issue isn’t whether Ronaldo will play but rather how fit will he be. If it is a Ronaldo who is 50% then I think it massively hampers Real’s chances, a Ronaldo over 75% has the opposite effect. We won’t know till the game, however this could be one of the biggest factors in deciding the match winner, Real aren’t close to the same team without their talisman.
This will be the third meeting of the two sides this season and in the previous two meetings (in La Liga) Atletico have come out on top. At the Vicente Calderon it was a 1-1 draw, however Atletico came out on top at the Bernabeu with a 1-0 win. If Real are looking for positives from their head to head against Atletico, then they need look no further than their Champions League head to head, where in three attempts Atletico have never got the better of them (including last year’s quarters and the 2014 final).
You have a team who have many talented attackers against the best defence in Europe. If Real are to win the game then they will be relying on Ronaldo and Bale to drag them through, which they are more than capable of. Real will know that they are going to have a lot of the ball, if they score the first goal then their attackers will have more space in behind and Kroos and Modric will be able to dictate passing and pierce the backline. In contrast Atletico have one of the best defences I have seen in a long while. I don’t recall seeing a team have so many last ditch blocks and tackles in the box, and to do them with such precision as well, it’s quite incredible to watch. On the other end of this they have Griezmann who is on shit hot form and will more than happily chase down balls and run in behind Real’s weak backline.
Things can go either way, however I’d be quite surprised if at the end of the night it wasn’t Atletico holding the trophy aloft. They have an incredible defence and they can punish you on the counter, Real are weak in defence and have full backs with no discipline who will likely get sucked up the pitch leaving the team vulnerable to being hit on the counter. I’m not saying that Real have no chance because with players like Bale and Ronaldo in your team you will always have a chance, they won’t however have space to work in and that will undoubtedly hamper their attacking options. I think the biggest reason that Atletico will win is that Simeone is incredibly tactically astute, he will have learned from the blow of the last minute equaliser which cost him in 2014, on the other hand this is the biggest game of Zidane’s career, he’s never had this much pressure on him and he’s coming up against a better team and a better manager. At times I look at Zidane’s management and I think that it is incredibly tactically naïve, if he played in a more competitive league he would have been found out by now; I think he gets found out here. Don’t expect a high scoring game, expect no more than three goals in 90 minutes, expect dirty play and time wasting, I don’t think it will be a classic.
There it is, for me I think we will have a new champion of Europe and it will be a new winner as well, and a well-deserved win for an Atletico team which has regularly punched above its weight and are incredibly well run. I don’t think it should be forgotten that it will psychologically be harder for Atletico to win their 1st than for Real to win their 11th, I do however believe that the experience of two years ago and the disappointment of that loss will spur them on to win this one.
So who do you think will win the 2016 UEFA Champions League? Are you for Atletico and Simeone’s classic Argentine tactics? Or do you believe that Zizou will become the seventh manager to win the Champions League as a player and a manager? Well leave a comment and share those thoughts.