Champions League final will be a very equal match, says Diego Simeone
LISBON // For Atletico Madrid, the only thing in the way of the greatest season in the club’s 111-year history are crosstown arch-rival Real Madrid.
The Spanish Premier Liga clubs make up the first intra-city Uefa Champions League final in history.
Real Madrid are the competition’s most successful team and are bidding to end a 12-year wait for “La Decima”, their 10th European Cup title. For 14 years, they had an unbeaten run against Atletico in all competitions, but that came to an end last season when Atletico won the Copa del Rey.
Both sides have injury concerns. Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to return from injury to play, but Atletico’s Diego Costa is unlikely.
Ronaldo has been burdened by leg injuries over the past two months, but this week said he would be available to play. Costa has also endured leg setbacks and, after hobbling off against Barcelona last week, sought treatment from a specialist in Belgrade using horse placenta.
Ronaldo’s return will bolster Real’s already potent attack with Gareth Bale set to start. Striker Karim Benzema appears to be doubtful with a hamstring injury.
A suspension could also influence the game. Xabi Alonso’s absence deals an important blow to Real’s midfield. The Spain international has been one of Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti’s most important players this season, but a yellow card in the semi-final win over Bayern Munich has left him suspended.
Either Sami Khedira, Asier Illarramendi or Casamiro will fill the void and take responsibility for opening up Real’s attack and breaking up Atletico’s build-ups.
Illarramendi is the natural successor to Alonso, but he has had a nervy debut season at Real.
“It will be a very equal match and I imagine the midfield will be determinant in setting up play,” Atletico’s coach Diego Simeone said.
Atletico will depend on David Villa’s scoring prowess to make up for Costa’s likely absence, and the Spain striker’s experience should prove invaluable to an Atletico team short of Champions League experience.
Villa is the only regular in the squad who has played in a Champions League final, scoring in Barcelona’s 3-1 triumph over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in 2011.
Today’s match represents the most important Madrid derby after 194 league and Spanish Cup games. Real have the advantage with 102 victories to Atletico’s 46. Their familiarity should mean few surprises tonight. “There are no secrets for this game,” Ancelotti said.
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Published: May 23, 2014 04:00 AM