For the second time in the history of the UEFA Champions League, two teams from the same city will contest the final. And as fate would have it, they are the same two sides that were involved on the first such occasion.
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will go head-to-head for the trophy on Saturday, just as they did two years ago in Lisbon, when Diego Godin’s header looked to have won it for Los Rojiblancos only for Sergio Ramos to force extra-time with a famous header of his own in the 93rd minute, a goal that set his side on the way to a 4-1 win.
FIFA.com looks ahead to another all-Madrid final, with Milan providing the venue this time.
Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid
Stadio San Siro, Milan, Saturday 28 May, 20.45h CET
Many have been wondering if we are about to see an Italian-style final. It is no secret how Diego Simeone’s Atletico set themselves up, relying on defensive solidity and tireless support work as part of a gameplan that puts the accent more on controlling space than keeping the ball. Los Rojiblancos have put those assets to good use against their cross-town rivals lately, winning five and drawing four of the ten encounters between the two since Lisbon. That one defeat, however, proved enough to knock them out of last season’s Champions League at the quarter-final stage.
Less certain is how the ten-time European champions will go about the game. During the course of a somewhat turbulent season that has seen the January sacking of Rafa Benitez and the arrival of Zinedine Zidane as his replacement, Real have been two very different sides: one that looks to dominate possession and throw men forward, and another that plays on the break and harnesses the speed of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, both lethal when given space.
That second, more “Italian” style has been employed more often in the Champions League, which suggests we could be in for a tactical duel between two coaches who have spent plenty of time in the world of calcio.
Two routes, one goal
Madrid are hunting for la undécima, their eleventh title, in what is their 14th final in Europe’s premier club competition, while Atletico are making their third attempt to win the trophy for the first time. Los Merengues’ journey to Milan involved meetings with Roma, Wolfsburg and Manchester City, a slightly less arduous path on paper than that taken by Los Colchoneros, who successively accounted for the champions of the Netherlands (PSV Eindhoven), Spain (Barcelona) and Germany (Bayern Munich).
Holding out for a hero
Cristiano Ronaldo, the scorer of 16 goals in 11 games, and Antoine Griezmann, who has seven in 12, are the two players most likely to decide the final, though Gareth Bale and Fernando Torres are two other front men who will be well worth keeping an eye on. The Welshman has earned himself the nickname el hombre de las finales ('The Finals Man') on account of having scored in his last three: the winner in the 2014 Copa del Rey against Barça (1-2), Real’s second in Lisbon that same year and their second also in the 2-0 defeat of San Lorenzo in the FIFA Club World Cup that December. Meanwhile, Torres is enjoying his best run of form since rejoining his beloved first club. A key figure in the previous two rounds, he has described Milan as “the biggest game of my life”.
Coaches and idols
Iconic figures at Madrid and Atleti respectively before swapping their boots for suits, Zidane and Simeone have revealed the selfsame charisma in the dugout. While the Real squad are delighted to be working with Zizou, who was Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant for two years, Los Colchoneros are devout believers in Cholismo and a coach who has, as Diego Godin pointed out, “changed the mentality of the club”.
Keylor Navas v Jan Oblak
The best goalkeeper in Europe against the keeper who has conceded the fewest number of goals in La Liga in the last 22 years (18 in 38 games). Both Navas and Oblak have proved more than up to the job of replacing the two custodians who played in the Lisbon final in 2014: Iker Casillas and Thibaut Courtois. Letting in just two goals in his ten outings in the competition so far this season, the Tico went more than 700 minutes unbeaten in the Champions League, including the two games he played last year, while the Slovenian had a big part to play in the ties against Barça and Bayern. Both are in inspired form.
Did you know?
Zidane and Simeone faced each other many times on the pitch, though only once in Spain: a 2003 Madrid derby that Real won 2-0. They met on eight other occasions in Italy, where the Frenchman played for Juventus and El Cholo for Inter Milan and Lazio. The Argentinian got the better of those encounters, ending up on the winning side in four of them and drawing two others. He also scored for Lazio in a pivotal league win against Zidane’s Juve in 2000, a game that marked a decline in the Turin side’s fortunes, with their Roman opponents going on to snatch the scudetto from them on the final day of the season.
13 - the number of players who started the 2014 final and are still with the two clubs. Atleti have made the more changes in the meantime, with only eight players from that squad still at the club, compared to 14 for Real.
What they said
“Experience is very important a lot of the time and we’ve got a bit of an advantage in that respect. Atletico will be on their guard after what happened two years ago, and I’m expecting a different game. They’ll be looking to win, but we’re ready. We’re going to be focused and I’m confident we can win. If we lose, it’ll be a failure, but I think we can get the victory.”
Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Being an Atleti fan doesn’t make you any more nervous. You still play with the same level of excitement, just like all your team-mates. To play in a Champions League final is very special. You never know how many finals you’re going to play in your life, and you have to approach it as if it’s going to be your last. It’s true, though, that if you do win it, it’ll feel that bit more special because you’re a fan and you’ve been fighting hard here since you were a little kid.”
Atletico Madrid player Koke.