The UEFA Champions League final is just around the corner and once again it will be a side from Spain taking home the most iconic trophy in European football.
After outstanding performances over the last nine months, Atlètico Madrid and Real Madrid will fight for the title on Saturday afternoon (CEST) at the San Siro in Milan.
As a repeat of the 2014 final, which was decided in extra-time, this year’s edition carries history behind it, with the rivalry between these Spanish giants continuing to gain momentum.
Let’s take a look back at the road taken to the final for both sides.
Road to the final: Real Madrid
Despite being drawn in Group A against the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid topped Group A with ease. With five wins and one draw, Madrid cruised passed their opponents proving their status as one of the favourites to take out the title.
After an impressive performance against Roma in the Round of 16 (winning 4-0 on aggregate), Madrid were challenged by Wolfsburg, trailing 2-0 at the end of the first leg.
Needing a big win on home soil, Cristiano Ronaldo put his mark on the competition.
A brilliant performance whereby Ronaldo levelled the tie at two goals each just 17 minutes into the contest, before Ronaldo added his third in the 77th minute as Real completed a great escape.
Manchester City versus Real Madrid has been a significant contest over the last decade and their clash in the semi-finals certainly lived up to the public’s expectations surrounding the tie. Locked away at 0-0 after their clash at the Ethiad, Real came through in a tight affair at the Bernabéu with a dramatic 1-0 victory.
This time it wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo but instead it was Gareth Bale, with the decisive goal for Real Madrid.
Road to the final: Atlètico Madrid
It’s fair to say Atlètico Madrid have had some nervous moments on their way to this year’s Champions League final.
Like Real, Athlètico finished first in their Group before struggling through the Round of 16. A very close and long penalty shootout victory against PSV Eindhoven (w 8-7) was a major wakeup call for Diego Simeone and his men, as they prepared to take on defending champions FC Barcelona.
The tie was like no other seen in this year’s Champions League, with Barcelona taking the early advantage in the first leg with a 2-1 victory. But the comeback from Atlètico was simply superb.
A brace from Antoine Griezmann including an 85th minute penalty turned the tie around for the home side, as the defending champions were out and Atlètico announced themselves as a serious contender in the tournament.
After the challenge of FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich were next in line for the Spanish giant killers. Another huge tie and another big performance. In essence, the tie was decided by a crucial away goal from Saul Niguez as Atlètico reached final by the away goals rule (the tie finished 2-2 but Atlètico were the only team to score an away goal). It was this sensational solo run which will be talked about for years to come.
Atlètico have made the final the hard way, but boy do they deserve it considering their performances in pressure situations.
This is a game that can certainly go either way. Both teams have been severely tested throughout not only this competition but also La Liga, where they both fell short of FC Barcelona.
With the most number of Champions League titles (10), Real Madrid certainly know how to win these blockbuster fixtures. The most recent of these was from two years ago when these sides met in the final, yet that result has little relevance today apart from purely a motivational factor for both clubs.
Arguably the most influential player on the pitch has to be Cristiano Ronaldo. Having scored 16 goals with just two more needed to break his record of 17 goals in Madrid’s 2013-14 campaign, Ronaldo is obviously a severe threat to the Atlètico’s defence.
Not to be outdone, Antoine Griezmann has been significant for Atlètico with seven goals at vital stages throughout the competition.
Threatening due to his speed, terrific ball control and creativity on the outside, Saul Niguez is a player Real need to shutdown.
Struggling in this year’s tournament, Fernando Torres needs to lift for Atlètico in the final. Although he has scored just one goal from eleven matches, Torres is the kind of player who could prove vital in a massive tie such as this one.
Defence has been the building blocks for Atlètico’s success in the 2015/2016 UEFA Champions League, but this will be tested yet again on Saturday.
Real Madrid possess strong attacking midfielders who constantly pressure the opposition through exquisite and creative passing. Modric, Kroos and Bale are classy playmakers capable of scoring if not causing defensive errors from their respective opponents. Keeping this midfield guarded and ineffective will be extremely difficult for Atlètico.
It is because of this factor that Real Madrid should win the Champions League for a record eleventh time. Despite Atlètico’s strong resilience throughout this competition, Real’s squad consists of too much firepower and too many threats.
A close final is again on the cards, but Real Madrid will win.
Prediction: Real Madrid 2-1 Atlètico Madrid
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