What: Champions League Final
Who: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid
When: Saturday 24th May, 2014, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Stadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal

“A por la Decima”

Twelve years in the making. It was in 2002 that Zinedine Zidane volleyed that goal against Bayer Leverkusen at Glasgow Park to earn Real Madrid their ninth Champions League accolade. Two regime changes since then, a plethora of coaches and a list of players walking in and out of the club could not take Real Madrid to the Champions League final again. However, Carlo Ancelotti plotted the way in his first season in charge of the side. After having won the Copa del Rey against Barcelona, Los Blancos are eyeing their tenth Champions League trophy. Facing a known rival in the form of Atletico Madrid, they will know what to expect from the Rojiblancos.

Los Blancos failed in the race for the league in the dying stages of the competition, as they only managed eight points in their last five league games and as a result, finished three points off the pace of eventual winners and Saturday foes Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid will want to calm their fans’ anxiety as they aim for the trophy, but will face a hard task in the form of the Mattress Makers.

“Anything can happen in football because it's a game. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and you have to know how to hit your peak at the right time. You learn a lot from the worst moments, too, and Atletico de Madrid have had an incredible season; they're the current Liga champions”, declared Sergio Ramos, fully aware of what lies ahead for Real Madrid.

Fairy Tale Season

As Real Madrid and Barcelona captured marquee signings last summer, not even Atletico Madrid’s most optimistic supporters would have imagined that Los Colchoneros would have been crowned league champions at the end of 38 rounds of football. However, their Spanish league title is the natural fruit of two and a half years of hard work, sweat and tears, and comes as perfectly sensible progress after Diego Simeone guided them to the Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and Europa League.

Placing the Champions League title next to the league trophy would highlight a perfect season for Los Rojiblancos, and their efforts have been worthy of a movie, according to president Enrique Cerezo. Cerezo feels his team cannot be considered nearly-men anymore, as the team approach their important date.

“Yes, Atletico is now an important team; it is a group that has made a fantastic season. Atletico is a great team with great players, with an exceptional coach that for the leaders, for the fans and for the players is everything”, commented Cerezo on Simeone and his men.

Atletico Madrid will be sweating over the fitness of two of their most important players, as Diego Costa and Arda Turan are doubts for this game having fallen injured in the title decider against Barcelona. Both players are racing to be fit for Saturday and the signs are positive, but Simeone will have plans in reserve, just in case.

Recent form

Real Madrid:
Real Valladolid 1-1 Real Madrid (07/05; La Liga)
Celta Vigo 2-0 Real Madrid (11/05; La Liga)
Real Madrid 3-1 Espanyol (17/05; La Liga)

Atletico Madrid:
Levante 2-0 Atletico Madrid (04/05; La Liga)
Atletico Madrid 1-1 Malaga (11/05; La Liga)
Barcelona 1-1 Atletico Madrid (17/05; La Liga)

Key absences

Real Madrid: Jese; Karim Benzema (doubt); Pepe (doubt); Xabi Alonso (suspended)

Atletico Madrid: Arda Turan (doubt); Diego Costa (doubt); Cristian Rodriguez (doubt) 

Players to watch

Real Madrid: No player has been better than Cristiano Ronaldo in Europe this term. His hard work earned him the 2013 Ballon d’Or, while his goals allowed Real Madrid to stay in contention for the league and reach the Champions League final. Troubled by an injury scare towards the end of the season, he nonetheless will be present for this important game as he hopes to deliver la Decima. Iker Casillas is another player with a lot to prove after being deputy to Diego Lopez for much of the season. Both goalkeepers have been superb, but the Mostoles-born custodian overshadowing Lopez and winning the Champions League for his side will put more pressure on Ancelotti to reinstate him permanently next season. As Atletico Madrid are dangerous on the counter-attack, he will have to put his best foot forward.

Atletico Madrid: Thibaut Courtois has exploded to the scene since making the switch from Chelsea to Atletico Madrid three years ago and it is no surprise that Jose Mourinho wants him back in London next term while his current side are fighting to extend his stay. Having won a second Zamora trophy for best goalkeeper in the league, a couple of important saves could earn the Champions League trophy for his side. Meanwhile, on the right-hand side of midfield, Koke will have a hard task on his hands as he will go up against Marcelo, as the Brazilian’s penchant for bursting forward might keep him confined to his own half. Chosen by Vicente del Bosque to travel to Brazil for this summer’s World Cup festivities, he will want to prove to the world that his selection was no fluke.

Match Prediction

It is a very successful season for Spanish football, as both winners of the Champions League and Europa League will be Spanish. Knowing somewhere that Real Madrid could not keep up with the league race, Carlo Ancelotti’s side seemed more focused on this game rather than the final fixtures in the race, while Atletico Madrid fixated hard on the Spanish title. Ancelotti is sweating over the fitness of Karim Benzema and Pepe – the latter having been an imposing presence this season – while Simeone faces even bigger problems as Costa and Turan seek to prove their fitness.

On the pitch, Real Madrid will try to impose themselves and guide the motion of play – despite having been content on counter-attacking against Bayern Munich in the previous round – while Atletico Madrid will surely adopt the latter possibility and make use of set-pieces, something that have troubled the Real Madrid defence this term. Los Blancos have their players rested and raring to go, especially Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, who will constitute their biggest threat, while Simeone might opt to switch for a 4-5-1 formation instead of his favourite 4-4-2 in order to win the midfield battle, especially with Xabi Alonso missing through suspension. But Los Merengues have worked too long and too hard for them to lose the most important clash of the season, and should get the win over their cross-town rivals in a tight affair. Real Madrid 2-1 Atletico Madrid.

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