As beIN Sports commentator Ray Hudson has put it: “This season, it’s been a tale of just one city: Madrid.”
Make no mistake, Diego Simeone and Carlo Ancelotti have been the orchestrators to the two clubs this season. After claiming La Liga, Simeone is looking to do the impossible and claim the coveted Champions League away from their neighbors. It will be the first time Atletico Madrid is in the Champions League final since 1974. Likewise, Ancelotti is looking to make history and add on to his Copa del Rey success by winning Real Madrid’s tenth Champions League – ‘La Decima.’
Ancelotti’s tactics will have to be spot on against a well organized Atletico Madrid side. So, here are the keys for success in order for Ancelotti to see Real Madrid lift their 10th Champions League trophy.
Xabi Alonso out of the final due to suspension, Ancelotti will have to shuffle his midfield. The usual pairing of Luka Modric and Alonso will be absent; however, the Italian will have much to work with. The most obvious choice will come from the opportunity to play Sami Khedira – who has made a full ACL recovery before the Saturday’s final and this summer’s World Cup.
Khedira, more importantly, offers a dominating physical presence in the midfield. Against Atletico, Real Madrid will have their work cut out in the midfield where Koke, Godin, and Turan will put as much grit and energy into the match. The German midfielder can help anchor Los Blancos’ middle with the likes of Modric and Di Maria, who both play more advanced roles. The only concern that may arise with Khedira is his match fitness and sharpness.
Because of this, Ancelotti may play the conservative-minded Illaramendi (Alonso’s young prodigy in the making) or the adventurous- Brazilian-midfielder, Casemiro. Taking into consideration Atletico’s authoritative midfield, it may be wise to have Illaramendi on the bench for a ‘Plan B.’ Additionally, Casemiro will be in contention with Khedira to start in the final despite his lack of minutes this season.
In the end, it may be wise to stick to experience (aka: Khedira) and Ancelotti knows this. After all, he has won the Champions League twice with Milan and he is more than sure he can claim his third. However, he will be more than aware of the midfield battle to come this Saturday.
This season, Real Madrid have thrived off of playing the 4-3-3 system under Ancelotti. The final should be no different. By playing the 4-3-3 system, Real Madrid will be able to both defend efficiently against a relentless Atletico side, while also bolstering an unforgiving counter attacking side capable of changing the game on its head in an instant.
On the defensive spectrum: Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, and Marcelo should be expected to start. Carvajal’s season has been consistently solid, most notably in the Bayern Munich semi-final fixture where he successfully shut down Ribery’s threat down the wing. However, Marcelo’s inclusion may be Los Blancos’ weakest link during the final if he’s given the nod ahead of Fabio Coentrao. That’s not to say Marcelo is not capable of handling duties on the left back, but instead, it is a matter of who is more match fit and sharp for the final.
Coentrao, along with Carvajal during that night in Munich, successfully took care of business with Arjen Robben down the right wing. It was the pairing of Carvajal and Coentrao that allowed Real Madrid to punish Bayern Munich’s attacks and eventually knock them out of the tournament. Maybe the pairing of these two can help Ancelotti against Atletico as they did against their German opposition?
On the attacking spectrum: Ronaldo, Morata, and Bale will assume duties up top. Given Benzema’s unfortunate groin problem, Morata will most likely be given the nod to start as the lone striker. If Morata is part of Ancelotti’s starting eleven, the young Spaniard will have to put a monumental shift in order for Madrid’s attack to be at its best. Morata will have to be able to interchange positions with Bale and Ronaldo (as seen with BBC throughout the season) as well as put in a defensive shift.
Players Who NEED to show up for Ancelotti
Ronaldo. Di Maria. Sergio Ramos. Specifically, these three players will need to show up in Lisbon this Saturday. More importantly, these three need to show tenacity and strength in their respective positions in order for everybody else to thrive.
Sergio Ramos, in order for his back-line to be at their best, will need to keep a cool head. Ramos is most devastating when he is not phased by on-field antics between players. It will be interesting to see if Diego Costa will play. The naturalized Spaniard (IF he plays) will be keen on making Ramos tick. Ramos should know this is a Champions League final and, as we saw against Bayern Munich, can be devastating in the front as he is in the back defensively.
Moreover, Di Maria is another important player for Real Madrid because he offers in both attack and defense with his constant work ethic. His movement is crucial for Los Blancos’ ability to transition from attacking to defending. If he performs up to par, it will be easy for Khedira/Illara/Casemiro to hold the midfield down while Modric aids with the transitional plays.
Finally, Ronaldo will need to show up at his best. Simple as that. The pressure will be on the Ballon d’Or winner, as he returns to the stadium that saw his Portugal side lose 1-0 to Greece in the European Cup Final ten years ago. The Portuguese international will be keen on eliminating any previous demons that may linger from that night.
Earlier this week, Ronaldo said, “I hope the Portuguese supporters will be backing Real Madrid. I hope they become Madrid fans for myself and Fabio Coentrao and Pepe. Supporters win games and I hope they are behind us.”
Ultimately, it will be the supporters who may play the ultimate role in helping either Real Madrid win or Atletico Madrid to win. All questions will be answered tomorrow in the Estadio da Luz.