A long hard season is winding to a close, and the final act that remains is the much awaited Champions League Final. This season’s Champions League had an excellent build up, with a host of top teams coming into the competitions with new managers at the helm. A group of death, which Rafa’s Napoli crashed out of, was followed by some intense encounters in the knockout games. Old hierarchies were upset as the likes of Manchester United, AC Milan, and Barcelona failed to live up to pre-season expectations. After all the ups and downs, we have finally arrived at Lisbon to a Madrid derby.
Champions League Final Tactics
Not many can be surprised that Ancelotti’s Real juggernaut have finally got to within touching distance of La Decima, but not too many can claim to have predicted the rise and rise of Simeone and his Atletico Madrid army. A number of factors are going to come into play on this occasion, and the build up has been feverish, with coaches, players, fans and placentas all being called into action. So what’s going to separate the two neighbours?
Where can they win the game? While Atletico did get the better of Real in the league, and even boasted a superior head to head record, this was down to a win at the start of the season at the Bernabeu. Since then, Real have won 2, and drawn 1 of the 3 encounters between the sides, including a crushing 5-0 aggregate win in the Cup. What works in Real’s favour against Atletico is the speed at which they attack. While Barcelona’s measured build up generally favours Atletico getting back and holding fort, Real look to bombard the opposition as soon as possible, not allowing their opponents time to settle in defence. The players that really hurt Atleti in that Copa tie were Di Maria and Jese, who took the game away in the first leg. Both of these are players who love to run at the opposition, and are very quick and direct. Atletico will have to find a way to defend against Real, who made their 60+% possession count in both legs.
The other thing in Real’s favour is experience. Yes, this is the first time they’re in a Champions League final since 2002, but it would be wrong to assume that the likes of Casillas, & Ramos don’t have big game experience. Ronaldo too, has won the Champions League before. From the bench, the hero of 2002, Zidane is a good guide, and serial Champions League winner Ancelotti has already been to this stage thrice, winning on 2 occasions. For all the talk of the pressure of La Decima, with such experience on hand, Real might just turn that pressure into hunger and thrive on it.
Where can they lose it? While Real will be motivated to grab the Decima, Atletico will certainly not be short of determination to take the trophy for themselves. As they showed last week, they are not a team that gives up, and this attitude can prove to be a real thorn in the side of the Merengues.
Another area of potential weakness is in midfield. The duo of Di Maria, and Modric have been incredible this season, forming a great platform for the forwards, but defensively, they may be a bit suspect. Tested against the hard working, intense and aggressive Atletico midfielders, Real’s lack of a true ball winner in midfield might just come back to haunt them.
Who could prove to be the key man? The Ronaldo-Bale axis is much talked about, and surely poses a great threat to the Atletico defence, but the player who took them apart last time was a certain Angel Di Maria. The Argentine has had a great season, and the shift to the middle of the park has done him a world of good. It has also allowed Ancelotti to gain from his tendency to run at defenders, and create chances. If he is on song, it automatically alleviates a little bit of the pressure on Ronaldo and Bale. A firing Di Maria also attracts attention and defenders towards himself, leaving space for the likes of Bale and Ronaldo to work their magic.
Where can they win the game? As we have come to see this season, against the big sides, Atletico’s success stems from their ability to contain the opposition, rather than concentrate on their attack. This game will be no different as Simeone will stick to his tried & tested philosophy. Thus, Atletico’s best way to win the game is to firstly counter Real’s strength. And that clearly exists out wide from Ronaldo & Bale. We are likely to see both Atletico full-backs on either side, Filipe Luis & Juanfran, to sit deep in their defence to try and prevent penetration from Real’s pacy wide men. These full-backs will also be helped by the likes of Koke from midfield. Atletico have found a successful way of excellently utilising their central midfielders in wide areas in a defensive capacity. This has allowed Atletico to restrict the oppositions attack and win back possession.
Speaking of possession, you can expect some high intensity pressing as usual from the Atletico midfield. The statement, “attack is the best form of defence” (and vice-versa), is never more true for any side that Simeone’s Atletico. Containing the opposition is the first phase of their attacking approach, this will be followed by ensuring adequate supply to the attacking third. With Costa’s injury, David Villa is set to play up front with Raul Garcia behind him.
Where can they lose it? Now there are two areas as such where Atletico could possibly lose the game. Firstly, as mentioned, we will see a deeper Atletico back-line with all four dropping off. The central midfielders will be looking to press their counter-parts. If Real are smart enough to hold the ball back with their midfielders, this will pull the Atletico central players toward them as they look to press, opening up some space between the lines to exploit. This is the risk Atletico possess with the imbalance in their intentions of containing Ronaldo & Bale, while sticking to their midfield pressing philosophy.
Personally, don’t feel too confident of Atletico’s ability with David Villa alone up front. Although he is an experienced man, probably the most experienced in the Atletico side, he is unable to play the role as well as Diego Costa. The Brazilian turned Spaniard’s injury will certainly hurt Simeone’s men.
Who could prove to be the key man? As stated, with Simeone looking to first counter the opposition and then supplying their attack, the key man in this regard would prove to be their young midfield maestro, Koke. The 22-year-old is an immense asset in winning possession back, pressing the opponents and supplying the attack. Although he’ll be deployed in a wide area, he is certainly no winger. His positional based tactic is to win possession back; the balls he plays into the attack are absolutely terrifying and he’s the main man Atletico can look to to get supply to the attack. Koke was named #TalentRadar Player of the Season in our inaugural #TalentRadar Young Player Awards, alongwith three other awards. See the entire list of winners here.
External factors: Injuries will probably restrict the role that Arda Turan and Diego Costa (likely to miss the game completely) have to play in this game, and the absence of those two behemoths will not hurt Real Madrid. Aside from this, the shadow of La Decima is bound to be hanging over Real Madrid. The pressure that the fanatical fans can pile on the team can affect them, especially if Atletico go on to take the lead. Real will need to insulate themselves from the pressure. They have the ability and know-how, but the execution is equally important. On the other hand, Alonso’s absence will hurt Real Madrid too, with Illarramendi a less than apt replacement.