In the last match before the world’s attention moves on to a more global tournament, El Derbi madrileño takes center stage of European football as Atletico Madrid play Real Madrid in the Champions League final for the 2013-2014 season, with Lisbon and the Estadio da Luz providing the background.
For the fifth time this season, we see these two rivals playing. Atletico Madrid were the better team in the league matches, Real Madrid dominated without conceding a goal in the two Copa Del Rey matches.
Strengths? Atletico Madrid might be playing without their best attacking player, Diego Costa, which means their hurt in terms of sending long balls and dominating the set pieces, maybe the best team in Europe in those situations, but the foundation of their success remains: A close to flawless attacking game that its basis is built on not allowing counter attacks to pierce through and not giving up any space behind the back line.
Real Madrid, especially now that Xabi Alonso isn’t playing due to his suspension, are a team that doesn’t need and even doesn’t want to have possession. They’re at their best when it becomes a battle of speed, and when they’re on the counter attack. Most of their bad performances this season, excluding the losses to Barcelona and Atletico, came when teams have forced them into dominating possession. As much as Luka Modric has improved this season, this team lives and dies on what Angel di Maria, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo create for them.
Atletico Madrid want possession only when they’re in the lead. They’ll hold up play through whoever’s possible. With Diego Costa not 100%, something that almost cost Atletico Madrid the title in their coronation match against Barcelona, we might see a three-man central midfield from Atletico, and Gabi playing next to Tiago and Raul Garcia or maybe Mario Suarez in there. One of the greatest things about Atletico and Simeone this season has been their ability to plug in players to certain positions and make it feel like nothing has changed.
Real Madrid need to score early. Not forcing Atletico Madrid out of their original shape early on becomes a very difficult task as the match progresses. Atletico don’t park the bus, but they never give any indication of being in a hurry, and seem to be fine with 0-0 or draws. It might be some sort of tactical approach to lull opponents into some sense of confidence. Without their best midfielder, Real Madrid need to keep this a high pace affair, that forces Atletico Madrid into uncomfortable situations.
As we mentioned, Real Madrid have all the pressure on them, but they also have the players and especially Cristiano Ronaldo, if he is completely fit, that can have terrible matches and still come out as the big winner by doing things on his own. Atletico Madrid don’t have that kind of player, and they need to make sure that advantage for Real Madrid doesn’t become a factor in this match. If this becomes a gritty, slow and physical battle on the pitch for 90 minutes, we might see it decided by who preforms set pieces better, where Atletico Madrid are the much better team.