A dream of a UEFA Champions League Final for many Spaniards is now a reality, as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid take on one another in Lisbon on Saturday for the crown of European club football.
Europe giants Real Madrid enter the matchm, vying for the coveted "La Decima," which means a win on Saturday would complete their 10th Champions League title. Their nine titles in the event are already the most of all time.
But even with a chance to make history again, momentum doesn't look to be on Los Blancos' side. Their cross-city neighbors became the story of La Liga in 2013-14, winning their first league title in nearly 20 years and have a chance to make it a miraculous end to the season in Lisbon.
There is no shortage of compelling storylines heading in, whether it's Diego Costa's horse placenta treatments, in the hopes of returning to fitness for the game, per ESPN FC, Cristiano Ronaldo's own recovery or Real's undying quest to win a 10th Champions League.
Let's take recent form into consideration and pick out some bold predictions for the decisive match.
Diego Costa Replacement Adrian Will Start, Score
It would simply be nothing short of miraculous for Diego Costa to start against Real Madrid on Saturday.
Costa entered last weekend's La Liga title decider with Barcelona nursing a leg injury, then tore his hamstring early in the match, making his status for the Champions League final doubtful, per ESPN FC. The Independent's Kieran Daley reported Costa went to Belgrade, Serbia to receive a horse placenta treatment aimed at repairing damaged cells:
"It all depends on the horse treatment used, but I have no idea about it as I'm not a doctor," Atletico president Enrique Cerezo said, per Daley. "If it doesn't help him, then it's best he doesn't play."
Next in line to start at striker is Adrian, who struggled in his Atletico Madrid career up until late this season, when he came up big in starting roles against Barcelona and Chelsea earlier in the UCL. That had manager Diego Simeone raving about his replacement, per TalkSport via El Universal:
“He was great and made me really happy. Since Diego Costa got injured in Barcelona we know he’d be the one to play the return leg. A lot of people trust him. His family, his team mates, and everyone who knows him knows that he’s the same Adrian of always, and we need him.”
Certainly Costa is doing all he can to get to peak fitness for the match, but there simply isn't enough time to get fit for this one. He might come off the bench late if needed, but it will come after Adrian makes his mark.
Atletico may struggle with Real Madrid's elite defense, but it won't keep them from scoring. The La Liga champs scored in their first 10 UCL matches, only being held scoreless once—in the 0-0 draw to Chelsea in which the Blues played solely not to concede.
Real Madrid will be pushing in this one and it will leave their attack susceptible. Ready to take advantage of his chance, just as he did in previous Champions League fixtures, Adrian will make a difference against Real.
Without Xabi Alonso, Real Will Still Control Midfield
An otherwise meaningless second leg against Bayern Munich turned into the detriment of the club that advanced, as Xabi Alonso picked up a late yellow card and was thus suspended for Saturday's final.
The significance of that hasn't gone unnoticed among Atletico Madrid's midfielders, most notably 22-year-old Koke, according to ESPN FC via AS.
"They [Real] have very few weak points. But the absence of Xabi Alonso is going to be very important. In the centre of the pitch, Atletico must be strong to take the game."
Without their star central defensive midfielder, Real will start either 24-year-old Asier Illarramendi or veteran Sami Khedira in his place—the latter of which has only made two appearances in 2014 after recently returning from a torn ACL.
But no matter who it is replacing Alonso, it's unlikely to hinder Real Madrid from controlling the middle of the pitch.
With strong attackers like Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria playing so much in the midfield, Real Madrid will be able to control the pace of the match with Atletico shorthanded in the attack. Luka Modric will be forced to play a much more central role, which he excels at.
Plus, there's always Isco on the bench if things aren't going as planned.
Real were happy to sit back and use the counter-attack to their advantage against Bayern but will use much more control against a similarly styled Atletico squad. That will allow for things to open up when the attackers get going.
Questions still surround whether Illarramendi is capable of a match of this level and if Khedira is fit enough to log big minutes in the midfield. But with such a strong core around them, it won't hinder Real Madrid from winning.
Real Madrid Will Complete 'La Decima'
If you don't think this is bold, go back and watch the games between these two sides this year, as well as see how each finished the season.
Atletico toppled Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu early in the La Liga slate, winning 1-0. They once again proved their worth in a hard-earned 2-2 draw against Los Blancos at the Vicente Calderon in early March.
The closing to the season further proves Atletico are the ones in good form, as Real's pesky neighbors pulled out the La Liga title, despite hitting a huge injury bug. Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti and company drew two and lost one in their final four La Liga games.
Now, though, it's different.
Costa doesn't look like much of an option for Atletico. While Adrian will fill his spot quite well, they need more than one goal to send Real Madrid into extra time.
Ever since they lost pace to Atletico about a month ago in La Liga, Real have been putting all their chips into the UCL basket. May 24 has been circled on their calendar for quite some time, while Atletico had to fight to the very end to hoist the La Liga trophy and followed it up with a big parade.
Not to mention Real knocking Atletico from the Copa del Rey in a 2-0 win in February.
"La Decima" is the elusive crown that Real Madrid fans have been waiting for, and on Saturday, they will at long last reach for it.
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