For the second time in three years, the Champions League final will be contested from the two footballing giants of Madrid as Real go searching for their 11th European crown while Atletico will be going all out for their first.
Back in 2014 Atletico came agonisingly close to breaking their duck as they led going into stoppage time, but a Sergio Ramos header denied them and during the extra 30 minutes energy sapped and allowed Real to run away with it, emerging as winners by the somewhat flattering scoreline of 4-1.
This one will be just as keenly fought and in the eyes of many, Atletico should be considered the favourites to triumph in Milan. Their route to the final has been characterised by dogged determination and resilience, excelling in the quarter-finals to eliminate La Liga rivals and defending champions Barcelona thanks to a strong second leg comeback which was underpinned by a steely rearguard action.
They then used all their powers of suffocation in the semi-finals in disposing of another one of the tournament favourites, Bayern Munich. Taking a narrow lead into the return match in Germany, they came under pressure and for a time appeared to be on the ropes, but found enough resolve to rediscover their composure and see out the tie.
The style of football adopted by boss Diego Simeone has occasionally been criticised for being too defensive and lacking in entertainment, but it continues to prove successful and it is unlikely that he will change tack here. The Argentine has done a supreme job throughout his tenure at the club, and winning here would be reward for turning Atletico into a major force across the continent.
The spine of the team will be crucial to how they fare here, with the highly-regarded Jan Oblak keeping goal behind central defender and captain Diego Godin, who is up there with the world’s best defenders. Koke provides a calming influence in midfield and will look to stop the supply line to Cristiano Ronaldo, while striker Antoine Griezmann’s reputation has never been higher than it is now. Alongside a rejuvenated Fernando Torres, the Frenchman’s clinical finishing could make all the difference.
As ever with Real, all the attention and focus will be on Ronaldo, a scorer in each of the two Champions League finals that he has won. The highest scorer in the competition’s history, he has had another imperious season in front of goal but will know that this is the biggest test of all. Even for a player as gifted as he is, it will be a difficult task to break down that Atletico defence, so it may require a piece of individual brilliance.
It will be interesting to see how the back four goes about dealing with the threat of Griezmann, as they are not known for being particularly watertight against the very best sides. Pepe and Sergio Ramos do have their weakness, meanwhile Daniel Carvajal and Marcelo alway like to bomb forward in support of an attack. Despite his role as a left-back, Marcelo barely has a defensive bone in his body.
The passage that Real has taken through the competition has hardly been eyecatching, although they were forced into a desperate comeback to overcome Wolfsburg in the last eight, winning the second leg 3-0 at the Bernabeu after being way below par when they met the previous week. As for the semi-finals they saw off Manchester City by the odd goal, where not nearly enough questions were asked of their defence.
But if they were to win the Champions League again it would be a famous achievement for manager Zinedine Zidane, who would only enhance his legendary status at the club even more. He scored a stunning goal to help win the 2002 final, but after being thrust into the hotseat midway through the season victory here would rank as one of the best days of his footballing career.
This final looks too close to call and may need extra time to separate the sides again, but one just feels it might be time for Atletico to collect the biggest trophy of all to reflect the strides they have made in recent times.
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