Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid: Complete A-Z of the 2014 Champions League Final
La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid will lock horns in the 2014 Champions League final on Saturday 24 May, with both sides having enjoyed domestic success this season.
Atletico, managed by Diego Simeone, recently won La Liga for the first time since 1996, while Real won the 2014 Copa Del Rey during Carlo Ancelotti’s first season in charge.
The two sides will now turn their attentions to fighting it out for European glory. Real have been waiting to win the Champions League since 2002, while Atletico Madrid have never won it— beaten finalists in 1973/74 is the closest they’ve been to European Cup/Champions League glory.
So here’s an A-Z rundown of the 2014 Champions League final.
A Is for Anxiety
For a club once synonymous with winning the Champions League, Real Madrid will certainly be the more anxious side coming into this weekend’s clash.
Los Blancos’ five consecutive European Cup triumphs between 1956-1960 are well-documented. Madrid won it a further three times between 1998 and 2002 too.
They have lost three finals over the years and endured semi-final exits in the last three seasons, so the pressure is on them to ensure they won’t entertain a fourth runners-up medal.
B Is for Bale
Real Madrid’s big summer signing Gareth Bale has lived up to his world-record transfer fee and will be one to watch in the Champions League final.
The Welsh international, 24, scored a superb solo goal to win the Copa del Rey for Los Blancos in Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence, and this weekend will be the biggest game of his career to date.
He’s scored 20 goals and made 16 assists in La Liga and in the Champions League combined this season. Atletico will be fully aware of his threat.
C Is for Counter-Attack
Real Madrid have lit up the Champions League this season with their swift and effective counter-attacking style. They thrashed Bayern Munich 4-0 at the Allianz Arena with just 31 percent possession in the semi-final second leg.
Carlos Ancelotti’s side have been the masters of the rearguard this season, conceding just nine goals in 12 games, and keeping three clean sheets in their four games in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.
Michael Laudrup declared Real as “the best counter-attacking side in the world,” while speaking to Marca.
D Is for Defence
Atletico Madrid boast the best defensive record in both La Liga and the Champions League this season.
Los Rojiblancos conceded just 26 goals in the league, amassing a staggering 20 clean sheets. In the Champions League, Simeone’s men have conceded just six goals in their 12 European games.
Their defence has been their biggest strength all season, and it’s worth noting Atletico haven’t conceded more than one goal in a single Champions League game in 2013/14.
E Is for Expectations
Despite never winning the Champions League, there’s good argument for Atletico to be considered as favourites to win the final.
Atletico have enjoyed Europa League success in recent campaigns, winning the competition in 2009/10 and 2011/12.
They’ve won this season's La Liga title, while remaining unbeaten to title rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid home and away, taking four points from both.
Atletico held their nerve to end Barcelona and Real Madrid’s duopoly on La Liga, which hadn’t been done since 2003/04 when Valencia won the title.
Are they the favourites?
F Is for Form Book
Atletico endured an end-of-season stumble en route to winning the league title, with the side losing one and drawing two of their last three games.
They’ve remained solid in Europe throughout, however, winning nine and drawing three against opposition such as AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea.
Real Madrid haven’t had such an easy time of it. Carlo Ancelotti’s men bottled the league title after losing three and drawing two in nine games between March and May.
Real have been better in Europe. In the Champions League this season, they’ve suffered just one defeat and one draw. The remaining 10 games saw an impressive 35 goals scored en route to victory.
G Is for Goodbyes
The 2013/14 Champions League final could well be a number of Atletico players’ last game for the club, with a busy summer of transfers ahead.
According to Sky Sports, Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa has agreed a deal to join Chelsea this summer.
Veteran midfielder Tiago Mendes could also be playing his game for Atletico as his contract is up in the summer, according to Transfermarkt.
Teammates Diego and Jose Sosa are also reaching the end of their deals with the side, while goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is due to return to parent club Chelsea following the expiration of his loan deal this summer.
H Is for Hindsight
In the Champions League quarter-final second leg between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, Henrikh Mkhitaryan had the chance to send the tie into extra time after he rounded Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
The score was 3-2 to Real on aggregate and a Dortmund goal would have brought the tie level with 25 minutes left to play, but the Armenian international hit the post with his close-range effort and the German side exited the competition. Real went through by the skin of their teeth and will be grateful for their good fortune.
Who knows what would have happened had Mkhitaryan taken his chance.
I Is for Injuries
Atletico striker Diego Costa and midfielder Arda Turan are both doubts for the final, according to Sky Sports. Costa sustained a hamstring injury against Barcelona on the final league game of the season, while Turan picked up a knee injury.
Real Madrid forward Jese has been ruled out with a knee injury. Sky Sports have reported that Karim Benzema has a hamstring injury, and that is touch and go whether he’ll back in time. Cristiano Ronaldo has sustained a leg problem but is likely to make it back for the final.
J Is for Jealousy
Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has publicly admitted that he’s somewhat envious of the talent Real Madrid have at their disposal, despite his side winning the title.
Speaking to Sky Sports, he said:
“Madrid and Barca, with all the money they have, they can buy a lot of good players and we have to find another way. We have good players but not the best.”
K Is for Koke
Named in the La Liga Team of the Year and Spain’s provisional World Cup squad, it’s been an incredible season for Koke.
The 22-year-old has been pivotal to Atletico’s success, and he has come on leaps and bounds this season.
Koke has scored seven goals and made 15 assists in all competitions. He’s made 133 tackles and 89 key passes too. He is certainly one to watch in Lisbon on Saturday.
L Is for La Decima
Real Madrid players, supporters and other affiliates will have been uttering the word "Decima" ever since the side booked their place in the Champions League final this season. What would be Real Madrid’s tenth European Cup/Champions League trophy will be theirs if they overcome Atletico on Saturday.
Real have been stuck on nine titles since their victory over Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final, and they now finally have the opportunity cast out their demons and cross the line.
Winning the Champions League remains a great desire for club president Florentino Perez, cited in the Guardian, and it was inconceivable to think it would be 12 years before Los Blancos made the Champions League final again.
M Is for Managers
Diego Simeone’s stock has risen at an alarming rate since joining Atletico Madrid. Appointed manager in 2011, Simeone has won the La Liga title, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and the Europa League already. Which isn't to mention leading the side to their first Champions League final in 40 years.
As for Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti, he too has enjoyed a successful couple of seasons. He won the Ligue 1 title with Paris Saint-Germain in 2012/13, while also being named Ligue 1 Manager of the Year.
Following his move to Real Madrid, he won the 2013/14 Copa del Rey and has reached the Champions League final with Real— something the last 10 managers at the Real helm have failed to do.
He could also become only the second manager to win three European cups if his side emerge victorious against Atletico, after winning two with AC Milan.
N Is for Neptuno or Cibeles?
According to BBC Sport, Real and Atletico both have their own traditional meeting place to celebrate should they win the Champions League final this weekend.
Real Madrid have their Cibeles fountain, which is a statue of Cibeles riding a lion-drawn chariot. Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas put a club scarf around the Greek goddess following their Copa del Rey win earlier this year.
Atletico have the Neptuno fountain, a large statue of the legendary Greek god, in the centre of Madrid. Gabi put an Atletico scarf around the statue’s neck when they sealed their La Liga title this season.
O Is for Outcome
Real Madrid are the favourites to win the Champions League, according to Oddschecker. Los Blancos boast a good cup record against Atletico this season, beating Simeone’s side 5-0 on aggregate in the Copa del Rey. They have also scored 37 goals in the Champions League, 12 more than Atletico’s tally of 25.
They saw past last season's finalists Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals and made light work of the holders Bayern Munich in the semi-finals. Beating both of last season’s finalists shows just how much Real have improved.
P Is for Press Conferences
Typically, the press conferences have seen mind games from both Real and Atletico. Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos has told Sky Sports that Atletico are the favourites to win, and that his Real side are big underdogs.
In contrast, Atletico midfielder Mario Suarez has said, as reported on Goal, that Real should be the favourites to win the Champions League on Saturday. Doesn’t anybody want to win it?
Q Is for Questions About the Rivalry
This season’s Champions League final is the first time two rivals from the same city will lock horns. Real and Atletico are fierce rivals, and their meetings are known as El Derbi madrileno.
Real Madrid boast the most wins in history, emerging victorious 143 times, according to Wikipedia.
Politics come into proceedings in the rivalry, and Atletico fans often chant “team of the government, the shame of the country” about Real.
Atletico also claim to have more of a working class fan base, while perceiving Real’s supporters as rich executive types out of touch with the common man.
R Is for Ronaldo
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo could well be the difference in the Champions League final. The Portuguese international, 29, has played in two finals, winning one, with former side Manchester United.
He’s been on fire in Europe this term, leading the way with 16 goals from 10 Champions League appearances— setting a new record for European goals in one season.
Ronaldo is just five goals shy of surpassing the record of 71 goals set by former Real Madrid striker Raul.
S Is for Surprise
Atletico Madrid have certainly been the surprise package in Europe this season. After getting knocked out to Rubin Kuzan in the second round of the Europa League last season, few would have ever predicted they’d be on course to win their first ever Champions League trophy this time around.
Let alone remain unbeaten throughout the Champions League in 2013/14, having knocked out AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea— conceding just one goal over two legs in each game.
T Is for Tactics
For the big games, Atletico have favoured a defence-first approach. The Spaniards have lined up with a hard-working midfield and perhaps a small reliance on the magic of striker Diego Costa.
In the quarter-final against Barcelona, they were happy to relinquish possession in order to remain resolute at the back— with WhoScored.com showing they had just 29 percent possession on average over the two legs.
They score a lot of goals from set pieces and set up to steal a goal on the break, as they can hold onto a lead for lengthy periods.
Real Madrid have favoured a 4-2-3-1 approach, with their wingers often swapping flanks and cutting inside to chip in with goals.
They’ve shown themselves to be a superb counter-attacking side in the big Champions League games, beating Bayern 4-0 in the semi-final second leg with just 31 percent possession.
But they can take the game to their opponents if they smell blood, evident with their impressive 15.9 shots on average per game in Europe.
U Is for Unsung Heroes
While Ronaldo and Bale are regarded as Real Madrid’s most important players, defender Sergio Ramos and midfielder Luka Modric are two players who deserve a mention. The pair have been superb in the Champions League, with Ramos, 28, contributing to three goals, and Modric, 28, boasting a 92 percent pass completion record in Europe.
Diego Costa is Atletico’s one to watch, but goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has played his part in the side’s success this season. The Belgian goalkeeper has kept five clean sheets in the Champions League and his heroics in goal ensured Atletico’s place in the final.
V Is for Venue
This season’s Champions League final will be played at the Estadio de Luz, the home of Benfica.
According to Wikipedia, the stadium is 11 years old and hosted the Euro 2004 final. It has a capacity of 65,647 and is used for a number of Portugal’s internationals.
W Is for Weaknesses
Real Madrid and Atletico aren’t without their faults in regard to temperament. Being a derby, their Champions League final meeting will surely see tempers flare, especially with the two sides having shared 46 yellow cards and one red in European competition this season.
Atletico often struggle to create clear-cut chances in games. As their greatest strength is their defensive abilities, the side often lack the cutting edge to unlock their opponents, which can lead to extended periods of the game being frustrated— Los Rojiblancos have scored one goal or less in five Champions League games and 15 of 38 La Liga outings this season.
X Is for Xabi Alonso
The Champions League final will have one notable absentee, as Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso will be suspended for the game.
As reported on Sky Sports, the former Liverpool man picked up a yellow card in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, which means he will be forced to watch his teammates from the stands.
Y Is for Yeste
The late Santiago Bernabeu Yeste, a former Real Madrid president, is the man attributed to transforming Real from a team in Atletico’s shadow to the most successful side in European competition.
Real’s stadium was named after him as a tribute to his services with the club over seven decades as a player, manager, executive and president.
He would have loved to be in Lisbon to watch his beloved club have the chance to seal their place in the history books with a record 10 Champions League trophies on Saturday.
Z Is for Zidane
Zinedine Zidane, the man who scored the famous left-footed volley against Bayer Leverkusen to help his Real Madrid side win the 2002 Champions League final, is now the assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti.
Real haven’t won the competition since 2002, but they are hoping Zidane’s influence in the dugout will help them to a 10th European Cup.
The French midfielder is success personified. He’s won at European and international level and will provide the players with invaluable advice before they step out onto the pitch.