[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Preview] A Madrid derby in Lisbon will provide a fascinating finish to the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League competition.
One week after the La Liga season ended with champion Atletico three points ahead of third-place Real, they contest the first European final between teams from the same city (2:45 p.m. Saturday, Fox, Fox Deportes.) Real’s pedigree in the competition is unmatched; it is going for its 10th crown. Atletico, which hasn’t reached this stage of the competition in 40 years, is seeking its first title.
Neither team finished the league campaign strongly, though Atleti rallied from a 1-0 deficit last Saturday in Barcelona to get the 1-1 tie it needed to keep second-place Barca at bay. Real took just two points from three league matches prior to beating Espanyol, 3-1, in the league finale last weekend.
The Real attack, which demolished defending champion Bayern Munich, 5-0, on aggregate in the CL semifinals, could be impaired in Lisbon. Knee and thigh injuries limited Cristiano Ronaldo to just eight minutes in Real’s last three league games. Gareth Bale sat out with a back problem in the last two games, during which Karin Benzema suffered a knock to his knee and a strained groin.
Ronaldo set a record by scoring 16 European goals and with 66 in his career is only five behind all-time leader Raul. His 31 league goals tied Luis Suarez of Liverpool for top honors in Europe.He was scheduled to play the final league game against Espanyol but pulled out during the warm-up.
Real holds the edge in head-to-head play this past season though it lost the
first match at home in the league, 2-1. It swept both legs of the Copa del Rey semifinals and tied, 2-2, at Aletico in March.
“We know how good they have been this season – they're very strong,” said Bale, who in his first season at Real scored 20 goals in all competitions. “We're confident having beaten them a few times this season and we're confident we can beat them again on Saturday.”
Atletico may be the underdog in this match, given the more illustrious pedigree of Real, but its season on both La Liga and Champions League fronts has been remarkable. It is unbeaten in 12 European matches, having conceded just six goals, and can be become just the seventh team to win the competition unbeaten if it prevails in Lisbon. It conceded the fewest goals, 26, in La Liga as well.
Diego Costa leads the list of possible injury exclusions. He injured his hamstring against Barcelona and sought out alternate treatments in the rush to get fit in time. He led Atleti with 27 goals in league play and eight more in the Champions League; if he can’t go, Raul Garcia and Alda Turan, each with four Euro goals, and Koke (one) are even more essential.
Under head coach Diego Simeone, Aletico has won the Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, Copa del Rey and La Liga. Facing the most accomplished club in Europe presents a test of tactics as well as a chance to make history.
“They've played with three in midfield and three up front and recently they've been playing a 4-4-2 which has brought good results,” says Simeone. “With the caliber of players they have, they are going to be dangerous whatever system they play. Madrid have big personalities throughout the team, they have great players.
“It's a historic rivalry. It's great, both in terms of the matches themselves and the fact that in one city you have such a powerful team as Real Madrid and a battling team such as Atletico Madrid. The idiosyncrasies of the clubs couldn't be more different, possibly from a social perspective as well. Each team uses the tools it has at its disposal and it's a great rivalry, no matter which team you support.”