25 May 2016

For over a century, the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza has been the home to one of the greatest rivalries in European club football – the Milan derby. Home to fallen giants of the game in AC Milan and Inter, come the end of May, the San Siro as it more commonly known, will play host to another great cross-city rivalry in the Madrid derby, as for the 2nd time in three years Real and Atlético clash for the greatest prize in club football.

For their fans, the two clubs are poles apart. Real represent financial power, a rich history and attacking flair that Atlético match with their grit, passion and defensive steel. Atlético are still very much the people’s club, and while they have spent most of their history in their neighbour’s shadow, they are ready to step out in to the spotlight.



Atlético began their campaign in Group C, alongside Benfica, Galatasaray and Astana. They finished as group toppers with 13 points, and after a penalty shootout win against PSV in the Round of 16, booked an enticing encounter with La Liga rivals and defending champions Barcelona. After a 2-1 defeat at the Camp Nou, where they played most of the game with 10 men, the Colchoneros ramped it up at the Vicente Calderon as they stung Barcelona on the counter attack to win 2-0 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate. For the semi-finals, they met with Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. A brilliant goal in front of the home fans by Saúl Ñíguez gave them a slim 1-0 advantage to take to Munich. An epic battle across the 90 minutes ensued, in which Los Rojiblancos came back from the brink to lose 2-1 on the night but go through on away goals. They are deserving finalists to say the least, having beaten the champions of Turkey, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Spain and Germany on the way.


It is no secret that Atlético’s success is down to their defensive strength. Under the command of Diego Simeone, they are perhaps the most compact and well-marshalled defence in all of Europe, a staggering 31 clean sheets to their name. However it would be an unfair assessment to turn a blind eye to their attacking talents. Antoine Griezmann has been prolific with 31 goals this term, including a decisive brace against Barcelona and the winner against Bayern. It is performances like these that have caught everyone’s eyes in Europe, with Manchester United reportedly ready to shell out £65 million. Alongside a rejuvenated Fernando Torres, he provides the bite in attack they were perhaps missing in Lisbon two years ago.



For Real Madrid, it has been another turbulent campaign, even though their road to the final has been fairly straightforward. The appointment of Rafa Benitez at the start of the season didn’t inspire much confidence, and it became clear amidst discontent in the dressing room, that he wasn’t fit for the job. He was finally dismissed in January, replaced by club legend Zinedine Zidane, whose stunning goal in the final won them the 2002 Champions League.

Los Blancos were unbeaten in Group A, with their scintillating attack and miserly defence brushing teams aside with ease. Against Roma in the Round of 16, they hardly moved out of second gear, winning 4-0 on aggregate. It was against Wolfsburg that they faced their first real test. A poor performance saw Los Merengues beaten 2-0 in Germany. They had it all to do in the return leg at the Bernabeu, and they, or rather Cristiano Ronaldo, did it in style. The Portugese talisman polished off Wolfsburg with a stunning hat trick to clinch the tie 3-2 on aggregate. They next faced a Manchester City side enduring a tough domestic season, and after a cagey first leg in which Ronaldo was absent, they progressed to their 14th Champions League final with a 1-0 win at home, courtesy of a Fernando own goal.



Ronaldo has led the way again, enjoying another prolific European campaign. He has 16 goals in 11 games, and could break his own record of 17 set in the victorious 2014 season. Alongside Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, he spearheads the irresistible BBC trio, who have had their fair share of injuries this season, but with 98 goals between them, are a huge threat. The telling statistic however, comes in their defence, which has kept 10 clean sheets from their 12 games. They have rightfully earned the tag of favourites to win La Undecima (the 11th one).



Atléti can take heart from their recent simeonedominance in derby matches. Since the final two years ago, Real have won just 1 of 10 derbies. Simeone knows what it takes to get under the skin of his cross-city rivals, something he needs to do from the off if he wants to have any chance of winning. They will feel that a European title is long overdue, whereas for Real anything other than victory will be a disaster. Both capital clubs were narrowly beaten by Barcelona in the La Liga title race and to the Copa del Rey, so coming away from the final empty handed is not an option.

The two are united by the city, but are divided by all else. Their styles, beliefs and methods are complete opposites, and it will be fascinating to see how they clash in their quest to be crowned Champions of Europe.