Small things to decide Champions League final
Madrid, May 21 (IANS) The forthcoming Champions League football final Saturday between Atletico and Real Madrid promises to be a tight, even and possibly ugly, affair if previous encounters between the two sides this season are anything to go by.
It is a game in which small things will make the difference between two squads which look to be evenly balanced, reports Xinhua.
The general feeling in Spain is that if the game were to be decided on individual talent, then Real Madrid, who are able to call on players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric, would have the edge.
However, Atletico's great strength is their ability to function as a unit to counter the attacking threat posed by rival teams. Proof of that is the fact they played FC Barcelona six times during the season without losing once.
Indeed the fact Atletico conceded just 26 goals in the domestic league season shows how compact they are as a unit.
Comparing the two sides by zones is a useful tool to predicting how Saturday's final could turn out.
Both teams have excellent goalkeepers with Iker Casillas defending the Real Madrid goal and Thibaut Courtois in goal for Atletico. Now aged 33, Casillas is experienced, but still has lightening reflexes. Courtois may be over 10 years younger, but has experience in winning finals and in representing his country.
Real Madrid's defence performed admirably for most of the season as Pepe and Sergio Ramos formed a compact central defensive unit. However, Pepe is doubtful with an injury and his replacement, Rafael Varene has struggled with a knee injury for much of the campaign. Dani Carvajal has shown himself to be a good attacking right back, while on the left both Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao has continually swapped roles.
It will be interesting to see if Carlos Ancelotti decides on the marauding Marcelo to play left back or prefers the extra security offered by Coentrao. Likewise the experienced Alvaro Arbeloa could challenge Carvajal if Ancelotti worries about his central defence.
Atletico's defence has worked as a unit all season with Felipe Luis, Godin, Joao Miranda and Juanfran Torres proving to be virtually leak-proof, while both full backs have freedom to range forward.
That liberty comes in part thanks to the disciplined midfield when Mario Suarez, Gabi Fernandez, Koke Resurrecion and Tiago Cardoso provide a balance between discipline and talent, with Koke and Tiago providing the extra dose of quality, while Mario and Gabi provide the work and win the ball from their rivals.
Real Madrid have talent in Di Maria, Isco and Modric, but will be missing Xabi Alonso, who holds things together in front of the defence. Asier Illaramendi has been shown to lack the experience to adequately replace Alonso and that could be a weakness Atletico can exploit.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale will lead the Madrid attack and nobody can deal with their pace on the break, however, Atletico will not be as open as Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 were in previous rounds where Bale and Ronaldo found wide open spaces to exploit.
Their explosive pace will not be such a factor against Atletico, where perhaps Isco's subtle creativity will be needed to find the gaps, especially if Karim Benzema is out.