For the second time in three years, the Champions League final will be a domestic affair, with Real Madrid taking on local rivals Atlético Madrid at the San Siro in Milan on Saturday.
Having finally brought home La Decima in the 2014 final, Real Madrid will be hoping that Saturday will trigger another period of sustained European success. Their semi-final failure against Juventus last season was made worse by the fact that rivals Barcelona went on to win the tournament. Furthermore, Barca’s La Liga victory where they pipped Madrid to the title by a single point, means that this is the last chance for Madrid to claim some major silverware this campaign.
Madrid defender Sergio Ramos has insisted that his team-mates will not rest on their laurels, as finals are decided by the smallest details.
“We want to win again and keep picking up titles, the fans deserve to experience this joy. I wouldn’t change anything that happened in Lisbon. Our fate was written and that’s how it happened, but it’s in the past. It’s time to turn the page and we’re about to play another final,” he said.
“I have beautiful memories but you can’t stay in the past. We go into this with the same hunger, excitement and desire. The Décima gave us some ideas, but we’re not stuck in the past. We’ve got our route marked out, our objective is clear. We’re just one step away and we’re going to put our hearts and souls into winning it.”
— Real Madrid C. F. (@realmadrid) May 27, 2016
Los Merengues have had a relatively easy route to the final, beating Italian side Roma with ease in the round of 16, bouncing back from a shock first-leg defeat to see off VfL Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals, and scraping past England’s fourth-placed side, Manchester City, in the semi-finals.
Even in a star-studded side like Real Madrid, there’s always one player that stands out, and that player is usually Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese winger has ended the domestic season with another impressive haul of 35 goals, second only to Barcelona’s Luis Suárez, and his hattrick against Wolfsburg earlier in the tournament proved that Madrid can still turn to him to make the difference. Fellow attackers Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale aren’t bad either.
A photo posted by Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) on
While Real have a famous history as European champions, Atleti have yet to enjoy such an honour. In fact, their defeat in Lisbon was just their second appearance in the final after appearing against Bayern in 1974.
Part of Atleti’s rivalry with Real involves the sense that they are always selling their best players, while Real are buying the best from other clubs, but manager Diego Simeone has chosen to highlight their enduring work ethic during his time at the club.
“The club, the players, and the base that has been with us for four and a half years, manages to reinvent constantly,” the Argentine coach said ahead of the game.
“There are possibly 10 players different from those who were in the final the last chance we had and I think that it is the most valuable thing that this team has. We work to continue growing, keep improving, keep insisting. I think that like everything in life, in the long run, chances arise for those who insist.
“Playing a final is something fantastic, winning it is supreme. And everything that involves reaching a final presents you with an experience and the situation to continue preparing to live with those moments. It is not easy, you have to work and as I have said, the best thing is to insist, prepare again, get up, go back to work, reinvent yourself, don’t change the structure or the system, don’t change the identity or the commitment. When you’re persistent on what you believe in, you can.”
Despite their less prestigious past, Los Rojiblancos have had a very impressive run to his season’s final, defeating holding champions Barcelona in the quarter-final before getting the best of Bayern in the semi-final, meaning that they have already knocked out two of the traditional favourites.
Atleti’s dangerman all season has been French forward Antoine Griezmann. The 25-year-old has scored 32 goals in 53 appearances this season and has shown a knack for striking at crucial moments, such as the second leg of their semi-final against FC Bayern München. Young Spanish stars such as Koke and Saúl Ñíguez are all capable of producing the goods, but the former Real Sociedad star is the one to watch.
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In team news, the big relief for Real is that star winger Ronaldo has recovered from a thigh scare to declare himself fit, leaving defender Raphael Varane as their only injury absentee. For Atleti, the return of midfielder Tiago means that Diego Simeone has a fully-fit squad.