With the Uefa Champions League semi-final first legs starting May 2, with Real Madrid taking on city rivals Atletico and Italian giants Juventus up against Monaco, our writers each pick a team who they think will go on to lift the trophy in Cardiff on June 3. Here, Graham Caygill tells you why Atletico Madrid will win.
1). The Griezmann factor
There is a reason that most of the big clubs in Europe are looking at the possibility of signing Antoine Griezmann in the summer. The French forward is key to Atletico’s threat going forward, and 25 goals in all competitions highlights the impact he has on Diego Simeone’s team.
He scored the equaliser against Real Madrid when the sides met last month in the Primera Liga and he is the player Real will be most wary of over the course of their two-legged semi-final.
If Griezmann plays well in the two legs then his side have a great chance of reaching the final.
2). Gameiro and Torres
Atletico are more than just Griezmann in attack and Real would be wise to have plans to deal with the threats presented by Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres, who both scored in the weekend’s 5-0 rout of Las Palmas.
At 33 Torres may not been the youthful force he once was, but even as a substitute he can still be a threat to Real and Zinedine Zidane will know it.
3). Tight rearguard
Atletico have the best defence in Spain, having conceded just 25 goals in 35 games in the league, and a backline that has Stefan Savic, Diego Godin and Felipe Luis in it will not be intimidated by Real’s attack.
There have been six clean sheets in 10 Uefa Champions League matches on this run to the semi-final, so Atletico will be confident of keeping it tight and low-scoring, at least at their end against Real.
4). Diego Simeone
The Atletico manager was a tough figure on the pitch in his playing days and he has instilled the same characteristics on his players.
The Argentine will be a passionate figure on the touchline over the two legs, but the man who guided Atletico to an improbable Primera Liga title in 2014 will back his experience against the relative novice Zidane, who is in his first full season of management.
The 1-0 home reversal to Villarreal on April 25 is one of just two defeats for Atletico in their past 20 games in all competitions, the other coming against Barcelona in February.
This highlights just how hard Atletico are to beat. They have some momentum and belief behind them, certainly more so than Real, whose confidence was rocked by losing to Barcelona 3-2 in last month’s clasico, and they rode their luck to beat Valencia 2-1 on Saturday.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport