Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid Sequel Will Be Nothing Like the Original

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2016

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Real Madrid CF tries to score from a header during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

They say sequels are never as good as the originals, and it's possible this one won't be as good either. Instead, it could be better. 

As the city of Milan gears up for its first UEFA Champions League final in 15 years, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are gearing up for Part 2.

Simeone's Empire Strikes Back, perhaps?

The Return of the Zidane, maybe?

In such circumstances, with a second all-Madrid final in three seasons looming, it's tempting to think of Saturday's clash as a continuation of the 2014 script: all-guns-blazing Real vs. backs-to-the-wall Atletico; rulers vs. upstarts; favourites vs. outsiders. 

But that's not what this is; not at all. 

These are now two very different teams, teams with new faces and evolved identities. The rivalry is different now, too, and both of them approach this year's final fitter and fresher, more prepared and better equipped. 

A Part 2 flop?

Don't bet on it. 

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27:  Manager Diego Simeone of Club Atletico de Madrid greets Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 27, 2016 in Madr
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

As these fierce Madrid rivals have undergone their preparations last week and this, the difference between them and those of two years ago has been striking. In 2014, these sides were battered, bruised and exhausted, riddled with injuries and half-fit stars. Both went on to use makeshift lineups. 

This time, though, both of them will have enjoyed two full weeks of preparation without battle when Saturday arrives. Over the weekend, Atletico held their media day, and on Tuesday Real held theirs; from both, a feeling of we're ready for this radiated. 

"We have more preparation time than we did for Lisbon," Atleti's Koke told the press on Saturday. "That year, we played a final against Barcelona [on the last day of the season in La Liga] and were tired from it. This year, we're better physically."

He's right. 

Two years ago, Atletico entered the duel with their neighbours on the back of title celebrations and with the fatigue of a gruelling late run. Amid that, Arda Turan was missing. Diego Costa essentially was as well, with horse placenta treatment failing him in the opening minutes. In midfield, Gabi and Tiago had emptied their tanks weeks before, and when manager Diego Simeone turned to the bench, Jose Sosa was his option—the one now playing at Besiktas.

Thus, the grind to a complete halt in that night's second half wasn't a surprise. 

Atletico Madrid's Brazilian-born forward Diego da Silva Costa (R) leaves the pitch during the UEFA Champions League Final Real Madrid vs Atletico de Madrid at Luz stadium in Lisbon, on May 24, 2014.   AFP PHOTO/ FRANCK FIFE        (Photo credit should rea
FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Now, however, Atleti look as good as they possibly could. Up front, Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres are in season-best form. Centrally, there are fresher legs with Koke and Augusto Fernandez, and out wide the likes of Saul Niguez and Yannick Carrasco give Simeone's men different options and ways of playing. 

"Things have changed [since 2014]," Koke told reporters. "Two years have passed."

It's a similar story for Real, too. 

In 2014, in a physical sense Carlo Ancelotti's side was also a mess. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema weren't even close to fit. Pepe was out. Xabi Alonso was suspended; an underdone Sami Khedira was his replacement.

In the weeks leading up, their form had been spiralling too, the trampling of Bayern Munich followed by two draws, a loss and only one win in four games, one of the slip-ups coming against a Real Valladolid side on its way to the Segunda Division. 

But this time the stars are healthy, and Real are rolling: To finish the league campaign, Zinedine Zidane's side went on a 12-game winning run; in all competitions since the Madrid derby of late February, they've won 15 of 17. 

"We are coming into it physically prepared, in good shape as we have to be," said Zidane at a press conference on Tuesday. "The season has been good, the work put in has been phenomenal."

GETAFE, SPAIN - APRIL 16: Gareth Bale (L) of Real Madrid CF clashes hands with his head coach Zinedine Zidane (R) as he leaves the pithc  during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Madrid CF at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on April 16, 2016 in Getafe,
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

This is also a better Real Madrid than that of Rafa Benitez and possibly better than Ancelotti's, too. Steadily under Zidane, the capital's glamour boys have found greater structure, balance and cohesion, and even though there have been issues along the way, the signs are encouraging.

Indeed, Ronaldo looks dynamic again, Gareth Bale has never been better and both Casemiro and Dani Carvajal have shot to prominence. Sergio Ramos is also finding form at the right time, while Keylor Navas hasn't stopped having a blinder. 

"I take my hat off to him for what he's achieved," said Simeone at his club's media day when asked about his opposite number. "He's done very well; he took over at a tricky moment. You can see the players hold him in high regard, and that is reflected on the pitch. He has helped them rediscover their spark, their speed in attack."

Zidane returned the praise on Tuesday, labelling Simeone one of the "world's great coaches," but he was also quick to acknowledge Atletico's evolution post-2014. 

"People point out Atletico's defensive qualities, that they're a side who are difficult to score against, but they are in fact a very complete team," said Zidane. "They also know how to play quality football, they give you a lot of problems."

It's why Saturday's final looms as truly compelling. This is a juicy rivalry as it is, but unlike two years ago, these are teams that are fit and fresh, both of them heading into the season's defining game with form behind them and clarity in their purpose. 

The sequel, then: It could be better than the original.