Uninspiring Real Madrid win makes Atletico favorite for Champions League final

So the UEFA Champions League trophy is headed back to Madrid. Either Real Madrid will add to its record and win its 11th European title under first-year coach Zinedine Zidane, or Atletico Madrid will claim its first trophy and gain revenge for the heartbreak of two years in Lisbon when it was moments away from winning only to end up losing, 4-1, in overtime.

With Atletico, you get a few exciting players in Frenchman Antoine Griezmann and the young Spaniard Saul, but you also get all that comes with its maniacal coach, Diego Simeone.

The problem is on the other side of the field with Real Madrid, which hardly impressed in beating Manchester City, 1-0, and advancing to the final by the same score. Indeed, it is hard to remember a semifinal series that was as poor as the Real Madrid-Manchester City series decided on an own goal.

With Manchester City's exit, the string of years without an English team in the Champions League final is extended to four after six years out of seven with an EPL team in European soccer's showcase game. And the questions will persist, how can a team will unlimited access to money from the Abu Dhabi United Group and City Football Group's minority owners in China be so underwhelming?

Real Madrid was hardly the Galaticos of lore, though. Zidane was being charitable when he said Manchester City made his team suffer.

"I did not see a weak City," he said. "They were committed, and they defended well. The result shows it was tough for us. We won the game, 1-0, so we suffered against a very good opponent. They did not have many chances, but that is down to the good tactical game we played, all defending."

Solid defending is not the takeaway you'd expect from the richest club in the world, and Zidane will have to be smiling that Real Madrid faced Wolfsburg and Manchester City en route to the final, a far easier path taken than that of Atletico Madrid against Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The Frenchman got a break because he was without Karim Benzema, his best striker, and holding midfielder Casemiro with injuries for the second leg and Cristiano Ronaldo was not 100 percent after returning from a leg injury.

German Toni Kroos held down the fort in midfield -- it wasn't exactly a difficult chore against a team that only managed five shots -- and Isco did well enough in his first Champions League start since the first leg of the Roma series in February.

Ronaldo was moved into a more central role in place of Benzema but couldn't put his stamp on the game. He was nonetheless pleased to be back on the field after missing the first leg in Manchester and Real Madrid's two previous La Liga matches.

"The press really doubted that I would stay healthy and really believed I would relapse," he said afterward. "But this didn't happen because I worked hard and recovered properly."

Zidane praised his Portuguese star's contributions.

"Cristiano was focused on his work," he said. "He even helped at defense."

The problem is, that's not what Real Madrid pays him for and why fans pay to see him.

If Ronaldo can't regain his form, it is hard to imagine anything but the inevitability of an Atletico victory.

3 comments about "Uninspiring Real Madrid win makes Atletico favorite for Champions League final".
  1. beautiful game, May 4, 2016 at 11:45 p.m.

    Man City was listless, uninspiring, quite pathetic when an away goal makes the difference. Looked like the USMNT on a routine walk-about. As for the final, if RM is not at its best, Athletico will smell the roses.

  2. David V, May 5, 2016 at 7:42 a.m.

    MC's biggest problem was not having David Silva on the field... that was a major blow to them.

    BTW...This article appears at the bottom of the page in the SA newsletter, and the announcement of some look-a-like character comes well above it... I guess it's more newsworthy to have an English look-a-like than to announce the CL finalist (not sure why though).

  3. beautiful game, May 5, 2016 at 11:03 a.m.

    That's right, Silva is out and excuses mean nothing. Who stepped up to the plate; NOBODY!!!

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