For the first time in the history of the UEFA Champions League, two teams from the same city, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, will fight it out for the biggest prize in European club football. With their nine trophies, Los Blancos tower over the history of the competition, while the indefatigable Colchoneros, who have made workrate and commitment their watchwords, are appearing in only their second final.
FIFA.com sets the scene for the grand final in Lisbon, which pits the best attack in this season’s tournament against the most miserly defence, and picks out five head-to-heads that could well determine which half of Madrid will be celebrating late into Saturday night.
Carlo Ancelotti v Diego Simeone
Brilliant midfielders in their day, Ancelotti and Simeone have gone on to become shrewd tacticians and skilled man-managers, both relying on the counterattack as their main weapon on the field of play. By far the more experienced coach of the two, the Italian has built a team that looks for possession but which continues to rely heavily on the blistering pace of its front men. Simeone’s Atleti is a slightly different animal, one that uses a suffocating pressing game to rob possession and then hit hard on the break.
Well-versed in the ways of handling star-studded squads, Ancelotti has won the Champions League four times, all with AC Milan: twice as a player (in 1989 and 1990) and twice as a coach (in 2003 and 2007). He has drawn on that experience to guide Real to their first final in the competition in 12 years, and having put Barcelona to the sword in this season’s Copa del Rey final, his task now is to end the campaign on the highest of highs and bring home the club’s long-awaited tenth European Cup/Champions League title.
Already an idol at the Calderon thanks to his part in the fabled 1996 league and Copa del Rey double, Simeone has further consolidated his status as a club legend by masterminding four trophy wins in his three years in the Rojiblanco dugout: the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup in 2012, the Copa del Rey in 2013 (secured against Real Madrid in the final at the Bernabeu) and La Liga in 2014. With 40 years having now passed since they lost in a replay to Bayern Munich in their one and only appearance in the European Cup final, Los Colchoneros are hoping that their beloved Cholo can steer them to another stunning success.
Iker Casillas v Thibaut Courtois
Now 33, Casillas is a living legend of Spanish football. Eleven years his junior and a self-professed admirer of the Blanco skipper, Courtois is one of the finest keepers in the business right now. Paradoxically, the relatively inexperienced Belgian is his side’s uncontested first-choice custodian, while the veteran Casillas has filled the unlikely role of understudy in the league, with his only regular first-team football coming in the Copa del Rey and Champions League. St Iker proved his worth in his side’s shaky quarter-final second leg at Borussia Dortmund, and his stunning reflex save from Mario Gotze in the first leg of the semi-final with Bayern ensured Madrid travelled to Munich with a slender but crucial advantage. Courtois has been no less impressive, playing a huge part in his side’s unbeaten record and conceding just six goals in 11 games, a record that compares favourably with Casillas’ nine in 12.
Sergio Ramos v Diego Godin
Born leaders on and off the pitch, Ramos and Godin are the bulwarks of their respective rearguards. The Spanish international was his side’s hero in Munich, scoring two thumping headers that ended any hopes Bayern had of retaining their title. Bringing his pace and power to bear, Ramos has been outstanding in his ten appearances this season, while the accuracy of his passing (a completion rate of 83 per cent) has also caught the eye. Equally assured, Godin exemplifies Atletico’s defensive solidity and has employed his strength and nous to neutralise the likes of Jackson Martinez, Mario Balotelli, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o during the course of the competition. Always a threat from set-pieces, he also scored the goal that set his side on the way to an important 2-1 comeback win over Porto in the group phase.
Luka Modric v Arda Turan
The midfield linchpins. The Croatian has truly come into his own in his second season at the Bernabeu, cementing his place as Xabi Alonso’s sidekick, while Turan, now in his third season at the Calderon, has made the step-up demanded of him by Simeone. Though capable of genuine artistry, the two can also roll their sleeves up and track back when the occasion demands. A precise passer with a completion rate of 85 per cent, Modric came up with some crucial assists in the ties against Dortmund and Bayern and also chipped in with a goal against Copenhagen. For his part the Turkish international has four goals to his name, all of them vital: a winner against Porto in the group phase, a tie-settling strike in the semi-final visit to Chelsea, and equally important goals in victories over Zenit St. Petersburg and Milan.
Cristiano Ronaldo v David Villa
The undisputed star of the Real Madrid side against the only Rojiblanco to have scored in and won a Champions League final, back in 2011 with Barça. Himself a European champion with Manchester United in 2008, Ronaldo has struck a tournament-record 16 goals this season, and his injury-enforced absence from Madrid’s trip to Dortmund almost resulted in his side’s elimination from the competition. Meanwhile, the continuing injury problems of Diego Costa – Atletico’s top scorer in this season’s Champions League with eight goals in eight appearances – is likely to leave Villa with the responsibility of leading the Colchonero attack. Though the Asturian ace has yet to open his account in this season’s Champions League, his big-match experience makes him a formidable threat.
With all these mouth-watering ingredients, Saturday’s showdown at the Estadio da Luz promises to be a memorable one. All that remains to be seen is whether Real will be celebrating la décima or Atletico la primera?