So the Champions League final is coming around yet again, and for the first time in its history, it will be contested by two teams from the same city – Madrid.
Real Madrid may have been many people’s pick for the final from the minute the first ball was kicked – and that is understandable however cross town rivals Atletico Madrid certainly would not have been.
In fact, the nicest comments that have been made about Diego Simeone’s men prior to the semi – finals were that they were ‘dark horses.’
Well for dark horses they have not done too badly this season at all, knocking out Barcelona and Chelsea en route to the final and managing to win La Liga at the same time. If that is a dark horse, most clubs would like to be one.
Real Madrid meanwhile are finally in the Champions League final and have their best chance in years to achieve La Decima – which if you thought Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was slightly obsessed with his holy grail of the Champions League, you need to multiply by 100 to achieve the feeling and desire that Los Blancos fans and players have for that tenth trophy.
Before the arrival of Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid suffered a wilderness in the Champions League, and the Special One himself could only take them to three consecutive semi-finals, although that was a marked improvement in crashing out in the last 32 over and over again.
Now it is win or bust for Carlo Ancelotti, who has effectively sacrificed the chance of winning La Liga in order to prepare for the final and indeed keep his players fit and sharp.
There have been some injury concerns over not only Gareth Bale, but also talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, but according to Italian Ancelotti, both will be fit enough to start the final and it is fair to say that no one in their right mind would want to miss the biggest game of the domestic season.
It is such a high profile game that Diego Costa has taken himself off to visit a rather controversial ‘placenta doctor’ in order to try to be fit by the time of the final come Saturday evening and the pain on both his and Arda Turan’s faces was oh so clear to see when they were subbed off during the La Liga decider at the Camp Nou.
Costa was inconsolable and initial fears of missing even the World Cup seem to be unfounded – but to play 90 minutes in Lisbon may be too much for the man Simeone calls a tiger.
The forward is of course key to Simeone’s game plan – as is Arda – but the Argentine manager is more than adept at forming a contingency plan like the one at the Camp Nou should neither be available or fit to start the game.
Set plays will be vital with Iker Casillas never quite looking convincing in dead ball situations – not to mention the fact that in the Liga this term, Atleti have scored the most goals from said situations and conceded the least. Not to mention the fact that Thibaut Courtois – who is likely to be playing his last game for Atleti – is simply outstanding in net, looking impenetrable at times.
The suspension and thus loss of Xabi Alonso will be massive for Real Madrid and is a huge shame for the player himself who goes about his business flawlessly and without fuss in the middle of the park for Los Blancos.
Ancelotti may think that playing Asier Illarramendi will compensate – but as any Xabi admirer or indeed Liverpool fan will tell you, Alonso is not so easily replaced.
The game will be hotly contested and certainly a tight one – there will not be another walkover for Real Madrid a la a collapsed Bayern Munich side and Atleti will certainly come up against a more creatively blessed opposition than they encountered in their own semi-final against the bus – sorry, Chelsea.
Real Madrid are certainly the favourites, which leaves the underdog tag to Atleti –not that Simeone and his men are complaining. After all, that is just how he likes it.
Who is your tip for the final? Will Ronaldo and co just be too strong? Let us know your thoughts below or tweet us @LaFootyetttes.