Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid: Expert Predictions for Champions League Final

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Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid: Expert Predictions for Champions League Final
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Saturday will see the conclusion to the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League, as Real Madrid will look to claim that elusive 10th European Cup trophy when they take on city rivals and new Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in the final.

The Atleti will be riding a wave of momentum, having just won their first La Liga title since 1996, but they'll be taking on a team obsessed with winning the Champions League for the first time since 2002.

Los Blancos hold the edge in the season series, beating the Atleti twice and losing just once before their final meeting ended in a tie, back in March.

Luis Figo backed his former club to finally capture La Decima on Saturday, but he confessed his opinion was influenced by his allegiance to the club in front of the BBC cameras. He also praised Atletico's "amazing" season and said that anything can happen in a final:

The Guardian's Jonathan Wilson sees things differently. Looking at how the teams lined up against each other in the past, he sees Atletico's superior physicality as a major advantage, and one that will ultimately lead them to a win:

It was the game in March, at the Vicente Calderón, that probably provided the more significant tactical pointers, though. There, playing the 4-3-3 they are likely to adopt on Saturday, Real had 64% possession. Even though they had one more central midfielder than they had had in the home game, they were bullied by Atlético’s narrow four, who were supplemented by the use of Raúl García as a very deep-lying second striker. That Real three of Xabi Alonso, Modric and Di María is technically superb, but it is lacking in physicality, and Atlético were able to impose themselves, at least until they began to run out of steam in the final quarter of the game.

Without the suspended Xabi Alonso, Real will lose even more ground in the physical battle, and Wilson thinks Atletico will end the season with the La Liga-Champions League double.

So does Sebastian Vettel, via The Football Cafe, though it bears mention his only reasoning is the fact he doesn't like Real:

He is however supported by Arsene Wenger, who wrote a blog for Eurosport in which he explained he believes Atletico will relish in the role of underdog, in similar fashion to how they played at Chelsea. The real pressure meanwhile will be with Real:

An important match is quite easy to analyse: your goalkeeper has to save one or two dangerous shots, and one of your best players has to appear and make the difference. It’s as simple as that. If your goalkeeper does not have a good day, if your best player is having a bad day, you are much more likely to lose the final.

The outcome of the final will depend on big players. Naturally, all other players must play well too, but the difference will be made by these players. And it’s hard to bet on anything.

Atletico have managed their most important matches well in recent years: they were present in the Europa League, in the European Super Cup. The real pressure will be on Real.

Atletico will have the advantage of being the outsiders who are able to destroy their rivals. They are really good at this, and I was very impressed when they played against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Wenger's analysis certainly makes a lot sense. Thibaut Courtois has enjoyed another magnificent season with the Atleti, being crowned La Liga's top stopper for the second consecutive year.

The club did what they had to do in their title match against Barcelona, despite early injuries to Diego Costa and Arda Turan. In league play, they never lost a single match against their top-two rivals for the title, indicating Diego Simeone and his men are indeed a team made for the big matches.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

There's also no denying the simple fact Real couldn't beat their city rivals to the Spanish title, as Sergio Ramos told reporters on Tuesday. The Real defender thinks Atletico are the favourites for that simple reason, as reported by The Daily Mail's Paul Collins:

We are up against a great team in Atletico Madrid who, from my point of view, are the favourites
They are the deserved current league champions and deserve credit for reaching the Champions League final.

But that doesn't mean they are going to be the champions of the Champions League.

The presenters of beIN SPORTS' show The Locker Room seemed torn between the two teams, giving a slight edge to Real in light of Atletico's La Liga win.

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Christian Vieri recalled how his Juventus squad had to play the Champions League final days after winning the Serie A title, and the celebrations took some of the sharpness off the team, leading to a loss.

They also mentioned injuries, and while Diego Costa might still be healthy in time for Saturday's final thanks to a controversial horse-placenta treatment on his hamstring, as reported by ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan, he still won't be at his best.

Brazilian legend Cafu meanwhile thinks Cristiano Ronaldo will be the deciding factor in the match, as he told ESPN Brazil, via Goal.com:

Even though Atletico are one of the best European teams at the moment, with it being a single match, something that Madrid is used to playing, with athletes that used to the competition, a team that has already won it nine times, I think it will be Real.

And having the best player in the world [Cristiano Ronaldo] also helps. It's always a positive reference for the team. You can give him the ball all the time. If you have the best player in the world, in a fantastic phase, it will only weight more towards Real.

Ronaldo is the current holder of the Ballon d'Or and the joint-leading scorer in the top European competitions (along with Luis Suarez), having scored 31 league goals on the season.

Via his club's official Twitter account, Ronaldo confirmed he is sure he'll play:

A player of his standing could be the difference-maker in a match that looks set to be one of the closest and best finals we've seen in years.

With very little separating these two teams, predicting who will be lifting the trophy on Saturday night is near impossible. But whether it's Atletico winning their first or Real winning their 10th, history will be made by the time the official blows the whistle for the final time.

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