Two teams from the same Spanish City go head-to-head in Lisbon tonight, their incentive: the most prestigious trophy in European domestic club football – where will the match be won and lost? Dom Kureen looks at five of the key battles of the 2014 Champions League final.
Gareth Bale (RW) Vs Filipe Luis (LB)
21 goals and a hatful of assists have gone some way towards justifying Gareth Bale’s world record £85.3m transfer fee. The Welsh wing-wizard’s stunning winner against Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final last month had even the staunchest sceptics salivating.
Filipe Luis has spent much of his career as a journeyman full-back, but his development under the tutelage of Athletico chief Diego Simeone established him as one of the most dependable components in a side that won La Liga for the first time in 18 years.
Conclusion: Bale has really hit his stride since the turn of the year and should cause the Brazilian left-back no end of problems if he becomes isolated.
Cristiano Ronaldo (LW) Vs Juanfran (RB)
In 2013 Cristiano Ronaldo secured his legacy as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. His 66 goals in 55 matches for club and country were rewarded with a second Ballon d’Or and a lucrative multi-year contract extension with his current employers.
Former Real youth player Juanfran will have his work cut out – Ronaldo’s tendency to drift towards the centre offers only superficial respite, with Los Merengues’ jet-heeled left-back Marcelo regularly overlapping to occupy the void.
Conclusion: Ronaldo has been the best player in the world over the past 18 months, keep him quiet and Athletico could hoist aloft their second trophy of a remarkable season.
Sergio Ramos (CB) Vs Diego Costa (STR)
Sergio Ramos’ Allianz Arena brace put paid to Bayern Munich’s hopes during an exhilarating exhibition of counter-attacking football in Real’s 5-0 semi-final vanquishing of the pre-tournament favourites. It is for his defensive work that he is most noted though, having matured from perceived pansy into cultured ball playing centre-half during the past decade.
He will have his hands full with Diego Costa, who has finally fulfilled his long undoubted potential with 36 goals this season. Chelsea have reportedly agreed a £32m fee for his services, so this is likely to be the Brazilian’s Athletico adieu, he’ll want to bow out at the zenith, but is nursing a muscle-injury that may prevent his participation.
Conclusion: Athletico will be hopeful of Costa passing a late fitness test. As the focal point of their attacks he can cause even the high-calibre Ramos a headache.
Asier Illarramendi (DM) Vs Koke (AM)
22-year old Koke is the string puller in Athletico’s engine room. Another player on Jose Mourinho’s Stamford Bridge wish list, his form this season has seen him earmarked as Andres Iniesta’s long-term replacement at international level for Spain.
Amongst the fanfare of Bale’s bank busting transfer to the Bernabeu last summer, the tireless Illarramendi arrived from Real Sociedad for a relatively miniscule(!) £22m. The 24 year-old schemer will slot into a defensive midfield role in the absence of suspended first choice Xavi Alonso.
Conclusion: Koke is an elegant creator, his selfless, innovative probing has the potential to unlock Real’s back line, it will be up to the athletic Illarramendi to stalk him into submission.
Carlo Ancelotti Vs Diego Simeone
Carlo Ancelotti followed up a stellar playing career with a trophy laden 14-year stint managing various Serie A sides. Subsequent spells in England and France added depth to his credentials and led to his appointment at the helm of the most decorated club side in the world.
Diego Simeone was an uncompromising player, whose management career commenced in his native Argentina. It is at the Vincente Calderon that he has really flourished though, having gained the role in 2011.
Conclusion: Real 2 – 1 Athletico.
Ancelotti is an old hand of the grand stage and won’t be overawed by the occasion.
With Athletico’s growing injury list, this will probably be a game too far for this season’s surprise package. Expect Ronaldo to add to his tally of 50 club goals for the campaign.
Do you agree with Dom’s assessment? Let us know in the comment section below!