Champions League Final 2014: Stars to Watch in Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 14:  Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid shirt banners hang from the regional Madrid government building at Puerta del Sol square on May 14, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.   Preparations are being made ahead of the all-Madrid UEFA Champions League final on May 24 in Lisbon.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The all-Madrid 2014 UEFA Champions League final on May 24 will be decided by the performances of six key stars, including a terrific trio of attacking talent for Real Madrid.

But there is also room for Atletico Madrid's underrated midfield linchpin and fierce-tackling full-back.

Here are the players who will decide which side of Madrid owns this season's Champions League trophy.


Gabi Fernandez, Midfielder, Atletico Madrid

Club skipper Gabi Fernandez has been essential to Atletico's phenomenal season. The crafty schemer is the natural link between every level of manager Diego Simeone's team.

A tireless runner, tough tackler and creative passer, Gabi keeps Atletico strong defensively and efficient in possession. He also has a knack for thunderous long shots.

Atletico will need to keep the ball away from Real's prolific attack. That means dominating possession. If Gabi is at his best, that's just what will happen.


Angel di Maria, Attacking Midfielder, Real Madrid

Others get the goals, but fleet-footed Argentine international Angel di Maria is the player who makes manager Carlo Ancelotti's formation and tactics work.

A former winger, Di Maria has been moved centrally by Ancelotti. The 26-year-old has been a revelation in the role.

Di Maria has become the creative fulcrum of this Real squad. His pace and eye for a defence-splitting pass have undermined defenses both in La Liga and the Champions League.

The mercurial playmaker has logged a hugely impressive 22 assists this season, per, with five coming during 10 appearances of the Champions League campaign.

If Di Maria is allowed to find space, he can expose gaps even in Atletico's rock-solid defensive structure.


Juanfran, Right-Back, Atletico Madrid

Often overlooked among more illustrious team-mates, veteran full-back Juanfran has a crucial role to play in this year's final. The uncompromising 29-year-old will find himself tasked with tracking the movements of Real's all-world forward, Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese powerhouse loves to drift off the left flank, the area Atletico trust Juanfran to safeguard. It's a job he often performs expertly.

Scrappy right-back Juanfran must shackle Cristiano Ronaldo.
Scrappy right-back Juanfran must shackle Cristiano Ronaldo.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Juanfran won't ever be described as a cultured defender, but his merciless approach to tackling and sound positional sense make him very tough to pass.

Simeone will need his trusted right-back to shadow Ronaldo and prevent central defenders Miranda and Diego Godin from being drawn out of the middle too often.

But Simeone will also want Juanfran to act as a vital attacking outlet, as Real's left side is often undermanned whenever Ronaldo goes roaming into scoring positions.

Juanfran will need to use his awesome engine to capitalize and exploit the space behind.


Gareth Bale, Forward, Real Madrid

Gareth Bale must take advantage of the inevitable attention Atletico will pay to Ronaldo. The Welsh speedster has been very productive during his debut season in Spain.

He has scored 20 goals, as well as providing 15 assists, according to figures from

Delivering more end product in the biggest game of his career, and Real's most significant since May 2002, would justify the enormous investment Los Blancos made in Bale last summer.

The player who cost €100 million has already won Real the Copa del Rey with a superb solo effort against bitter rival FC Barcelona. But if he wins the club its 10th European Cup, Bale will be worth every penny.


Tiago, Defensive Midfielder, Atletico Madrid

Yet another unsung hero in Atletico's success, savvy midfield anchorman Tiago has a major role to play. As the protector of a fearsome back four, Tiago is an invaluable extra layer attacking opponents have to try to bypass.

Not many succeed, thanks to the ex-Chelsea man's discipline and resolve. Tiago rarely vacates his position as the deep-lying enforcer at the base of his team's midfield.

He will be key in stifling Real's quick-paced forward moves and disrupting the combination play between Bale, Ronaldo and Di Maria.

The Portuguese veteran should relish playing the season's showpiece in his native country and deliver a stout performance.

With star striker Diego Costa struggling to recover from a hamstring injury in time for the final, per Sky Sports, Atletico will need defensive resources like Tiago to be at their best.


Cristiano Ronaldo, Forward, Real Madrid

The spotlight will naturally shine brightest on Ronaldo before, during and after this final. The current Ballon d'Or holder will need to be at his best to break down Atletico's notoriously stubborn defence.

Thankfully, Ronaldo has been at his best for most of this season. He has bagged a scarcely believable 16 goals in 10 Champions League matches this season, per

The issue for Ancelotti will be making sure his star player is fully fit for the final. He has been rested recently and was withdrawn from Real's final league fixture against Espanyol, after an apparent injury during warm-ups, per John Drayton of the Daily Mail.

Drayton notes that Ronaldo will be available for the final. Playing in his homeland should inspire Ronaldo to cause the Atletico back four plenty of problems.