Madrid takes centre stage in Europe as Atletico and Real prepare for final derby

Atletico have turned in a stunning season while Real chase their 10th European Cup triumph
Atletico Madrid's Adrian Lopez, centre, celebrates scoring the equaliser during the Uefa Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in London on April 30, 2014. Andy Rain / EPA
Atletico Madrid's Adrian Lopez, centre, celebrates scoring the equaliser during the Uefa Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in London on April 30, 2014. Andy Rain / EPA

There is only one city in the world with a higher combined average crowd for their two leading clubs than Madrid.

Manchester’s combined average of 122,263 fans (United 75,185, City 47,070) for home league games puts the city ahead of Madrid in second with 119,792 (Real Madrid average 72,709, Atletico 47,070) and Barcelona’s 92,617 (Barca 72,386, Espanyol 20,231).

They leave other great footballing cities trailing. Milan’s big two attract 86,967 (Inter 47,250, AC Milan 39,717), Turin’s 55,175 (Juventus 37,944, Torino 17,232) and Rome’s giants get a combined average attendance of 69,109 (AS Roma 39,664, Lazio 29,445).

Manchester’s big two bowed out of the Champions League at the last-16 and quarter-final stages this season.

Madrid’s have become the first two clubs from the same city to reach the European Cup final.

Real Madrid’s 4-0 win in Munich on Tuesday stunned football, as did Atletico’s 3-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge 24 hours later. Atletico’s annual wage bill is €64 million (Dh326m), far less than Real Madrid’s €246m, Bayern Munich’s €203m or Chelsea’s €201m. Yet they have been the team of the season so far.

Football fans in Madrid are still on a huge high after events this week, but the 120,000 regular match-going fans in the Spanish capital have to compete for just 34,000 tickets for the final at Benfica’s Stadium of Light in Lisbon on May 24.

Each team will receive 17,000 tickets, with tickets for sponsors and neutrals encompassing what Uefa call their “family” taking up the rest of the 65,400-seat stadium. Fans of both finalists will rightly scream injustice.

Many of the neutral tickets will seep into partisan Madrileno hands, but there are going to be a lot of disappointed football fans. Tens of thousands will make the 629-kilometre journey, regardless, just to say that they were there.

Lisbon is likely to experience a party atmosphere for days, though segregation and rival fan areas will be needed in the city. Relations between Atletico and Madrid fans, especially rival ultra groups, are not good.

The proposed high-speed rail line between the two cities was cut by the impact of the economic crisis, but the seven-hour car journey will not present a hurdle to the many interested fans. Lisbon is a convenient venue given the two finalists, far easier to reach to than Moscow, London and Rome, three of the venues for recent Champions League finals.

It will be the first Madrid derby to be played outside of Spain, though Atletico and Real Madrid have met several times in domestic finals before.

In games this season, Atletico won at the Bernabeu for the first time this century in league play, to add to their dramatic extra-time victory in last season’s Copa del Rey final. It was the first time Atletico had won consecutive games there since 1920 and 1921 and a result which led to a “Millions 0 Football 1” headline in the Madrid press.

They then drew 2-2 in a March league game at the Calderon, so Atletico retain the head-to-head advantage should both teams finish level on the same points at the end of the season. With three games to play, Atletico are six points clear of Madrid, who have a game in hand.

The pair met twice in one week in February in Copa del Rey semi-finals too, with Madrid winning both, first 3-0 at the Bernabeu and 2-0 in the Calderon. They were among four February defeats suffered by Atletico, and given the way they had faded in the previous season, many suspected Atletico’s bubble had burst and that their form would regress. It did not.

They have won their last nine league games since the 2-2 draw against Madrid in March and progressed to the Lisbon final. It is their first European Cup final since their only appearance, 40 years ago, when they were beaten by Bayern Munich. Madrid, meanwhile, are going for a 10th European Cup, the last coming in 2002. They could also still win the treble.

This could be the greatest season for either Madrid club, but one of them will lose out in Portugal.

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Published: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM


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