Atletico Madrid secured the draw against Barcelona that they needed to win their first La Liga title since 1995/96 – and ensure that they will head into the Champions League final against local rivals Real in excellent spirits.
The fact that they have a real chance of winning this trophy for the first time in their history demonstrated just how impressive a job Diego Simeone has done as manager – building effectively on last season’s Copa del Rey triumph. There is arguably less pressure on them in this game, as Real effectively sacrificed their La Liga campaign to focus on winning this prize, and if they don’t then their season has to be considered a failure. By contrast it has already been a fine season for Atletico, with the Champions League final representing the icing on the cake. It is Real who are the bookies favourites, on 1/2, (compared with 17/10 for Atletico, reflecting their greater experience in this tournament, at both playing and managerial level.
The key men
A key factor in whether Atletico can deny Real their coveted 10th European Cup is almost certain to be whether top striker Diego Costa is fit to play. Their top scorer played in the 1-1 draw with Barcelona, but was substituted with that niggling hamstring problem, and they need him fit – as his eight Champions League goals this season have been as crucial to their success as a strong defence. He is off to Chelsea after this game, and would love to end his Atletico career with a Champions League medal. For Real, Ronaldo has scored an astonishing 16 goals already in this year’s tournament, and Real are not the same side without him. He also scored both of the goals when Real won at Atletico in the first leg of the Copa del Rey final in February – plus another one in the 2-2 La Liga draw in March His record in this tournament and against Atletico is reflected in the fact that he is the hot favourite to score the first goal – with the likes of BetFred and Paddy Power having him on just 3/1 to do so, compared with 13/2 for Costa.
Tactics and formations
Most considered that one of the major tasks that Carlo Ancelotti faced this season was finding a system to accommodate both Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, and he has managed this effectively. Ditching his favoured Christmas Tree and 4-1-2-1-2 formations to go with a more straightforward 4-3-3 has enabled him to deploy both out wide, with Benzema in the centre, making for fluid attacking options. Bale and Benzema have chipped in with five goals each so far, suggesting that a bet on Real’s front line to score in the final is a safe one.
Of course Simeone is no tactical slouch, with his preferred formation usually a 4-4-1-1 – and their rock solid defensive line-up of Miranda, Juanfran, Filipe Luis and Diego Godin has seen them concede less than any other side in this year’s tournament. They will face their stiffest test yet in the three-pronged Ronaldo/Bale/Benzema attack, and who you bet on to win should come down to who you think will win this tactical battle.
Perhaps surprisingly, the recent history between these two favours Atletico – who have only suffered two defeats in the last six matches against their big spending Madrid rivals – and this includes major La Liga and Copa del Rey victories at the Bernabeu. These wins were by 2-1 and 1-0 respectively, and most recent head-to-heads have been close, for those betting on the correct score. You can get 6/1 on Real to win 1-0 and 9/1 on a similar score line in favour of Atletico – while the 1-1 draw is a 13/2 bet.
When and where
Venue: Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica
Date: Saturday 24th May
Kick-off time: 20.45 p.m. CET, 7.45 p.m. BST
TV: Live coverage on Sky Sports and ITV