Will Zinedine Zidane be lifted even higher to the heavens than his Galactico days by winning the Champions League Final at Milan's San Siro within the first five months of managing his first ever top-flight team? (Leave comments below.)
|Atletico manager, former midfield superstar Diego Simeone (left), with ten years of management experience at first division vs. former Real Madrid midfield Galactico, Zinedine Zidane (right), in his first five months of managing a first division team. Image Credit: Goal.com|
Real Madrid makes it to the Champions League Final for the umpteenth time - ten times crowned kings of European football, more than anyone else - and it is no surprise that the bookies have made Real the favourites to win.
Betting odds from:
Bet365 -- | -- William Hill -- | -- PaddyPower -- | -- Ladbrokes -- | -- Betfair
It's a replay of the final just two years ago in Lisbon, when Atletico led 0-1 for 90 minutes of the entire standard match time, but ended up massive 4-1 losers to Real just after 30 minutes of extra time later (Sergio Ramos equalizing in added time, then Gareth Bale putting Real ahead in extra time). Is now the time for Atletico to make amends in the Madrid derby re-match?
Real Madrid form
While Real Madrid and Atletico both reached the knockout stage in 2009, neither got beyond the first round. However, Real also reached the same stage every year from then, with semi-final berths in 2011, 2012, 2013 and just last year, 2015. And as mentioned above in 2014, the only year that they reached the finals since the last time in 2002 (then victorious as champions, with Zinedine Zidane kicking the winning goal past the Bayern Munich posts), they were of course again crowned champions over Atletico in 2014.
For Real Madrid, despite the other names of Galactico-standard in their squad, it is all hail to Cristiano Ronaldo! Ever since his second 2010-11 season at Real, he has occupied either the first or second place in the table of La Liga high scorers each year, usually swapping position with Lionel Messi. However, he has reserved the top spot for himself in recent seasons ending in 2014 and 2015; but this year, despite being substantially clear of Messi, it is Luis Suarez of Barcelona who is keeping Ronaldo at 2nd and team mate Messi at 3rd.
In the latest Champions League campaign, starting in the knockout phase, Ronaldo scored in both legs of their victory over Roma; then at the next quarter-final stage scored an amazing hat trick to dump Wolfsburg, after facing a daunting 2-0 deficit from their first leg. The two legs of the semi-final against Manchester City did not have much by way of goals, except for the last one which made the decision: a fast and powerful shot by Gareth Bale that took a small deflection from City's Fernando for an own goal.
Over the years, Ronaldo has been more than ably supported in racking up goals for Real Madrid by French star, Karim Benzema - who has scored 15 or more La Liga goals each year since Ronaldo hit his straps in 2010-11 (except for the season 2012-13). Then at the beginning of the 2013-14 season came Welshman, Gareth Bale, with a world record transfer free from English Premier League side, Tottenham. In his very first season with Real, Bale reached the top ten bracket of La Liga scorers with 15 goals (Benzema 17, Ronaldo first in La Liga with 31). In 2014-15, La Liga goals by Bale were still substantial at 13, but just out of the top ten bracket; while the current year has brought back the bounty, with up-to-date La Liga goals at 19 (Benzema 24, Ronaldo 33).
|Star forwards of Real Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo (centre), Gareth Bale (left), Karim Benzema (right). Image Credit: Youtube|
|Atletico Madrid is reliant on their sole goal-machine, Antoine Griezmann - with the bleached top hair. His 2014 transfer fee of 30 million euros is dwarfed by the combined 230 million of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema, lined up against him at the Milan final. Image Credit: Capperdesign.com|
Atletico Madrid form
Atletico Madrid, in contrast to the perennial high-achievers, Real, never visited the knockout rounds again from 2009, until 2014 when they went all the way to that ill-fated final against Real. The next year in 2015 saw another good performance in the Champions League for Atletico, reaching the quarter-finals and eliminated there again by their nemesis, Real Madrid (who next fell to Juventus in the semi-final). This May 28, at Milan's San Siro Stadium, will be only the third time Atletico has ever been in a Champions League final - a championship that they have yet to win in their history... Maybe this year is the one to turn the tables on Real Madrid...
Atletico Madrid has had great success during the tenure of manager, Diego Simeone, the former Argentine football superstar who has won the 1998 UEFA Cup final (Europa League) in the midfield with Inter Milan when Brazilian Ronaldo was also with Inter - but he spent most of his playing career with Atletico Madrid itself over two stints: first starting in 1994, and last ending in 2005.
In his first season as Atletico's manager, he took them to win a cup he had won himself: the 2012 Europa League final; and their La Liga result improved from 7th in 2011, to 5th position. The next year, 2013, saw them improve again to end up in a very creditable 3rd position in Spain's La Liga and a Copa del Rey trophy defeating Real Madrid. 2014 was better still, beating Barcelona and Real Madrid to the very top of the La Liga table; however their place at the UEFA Champions League final that year was spoiled by none other than Real Madrid who defeated them on that infamous day. In 2015, it was Real Madrid again who knocked Atletico out of the Champions League at the quarter-finals; and in La Liga, Atletico dropped back to third place after having been Champions of La Liga in 2013-14. The 2015-16 season has seen Atletico jump back up in performance in La Liga: staying for most of the season at 2nd place, above Real Madrid but below Barcelona (in contrast to the previous year when they only reached 2nd place once near the beginning of the 2014-15 season), until their recent loss to Levante in the second last match of the season - and of course now they have made real the promise of the "Road to Milan", and reached the penultimate match of European dominance at the Champions League final in the legendary San Siro Stadium.
The Atletico team of 2016 is quite different to that of their earlier successes with manager Simeone. The prolific striker Falcao left for Monaco at the end of the season in 2013, and equally prolific Diego Costa left for Chelsea at the end of Atletico's most successful season to date in 2014. That Atletico slumped from 1st in La Liga in 2014 to 3rd in 2015 is understandable.
At the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Atletico signed striker, Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad - a French footballer who had been with that Basque team since he was 15 years old... hardly exotic and exciting in comparison to the Colombian Falcao and the Brazilian Costa. It was just in the previous 2013-14 season that Griezmann had leapt into the La Liga top ten goal scorer table for Real Sociedad; and in the two seasons since then, Atletico's bet has paid off with Griezmann being Atletico's top scorer with 25 goals in all matches 2014-15 (and in La Liga, was just behind Ronaldo and Messi in goals, and equal 3rd with Neymar), and 30 goals in all matches in the current season to date.
Atletico is reliant on Griezmann, as the strongest support in goal scoring only comes from that Atletico warhorse, Fernando Torres, who rejoined Atletico mid-season only in January 2015. Torres this season has the second-best Atletico goal tally with 11 goals in all matches; a far cry from Atletico's shining star, Griezmann with 30. Torres scored the sole away-goal that helped edge Atletico over Barcelona in their 3-2 aggregate result in the quarter-finals (Griezmann contributing the other 2, one of which was a penalty); while Griezmann was the hero over Bayern Munich in the semi-finals scoring the lone away goal in a 2-2 aggregate result.
Zinedine Zidane, novice manager in the 1st division vs. familiar superstar player rival, Diego Simeone, with ten years management experience of 1st division teams
While Atletico has gone from strength to strength under more than four long years of management by Diego Simeone since the middle of the 2011-12 season; perennial star performers, Real Madrid, has had four different managers during the same time period: Mourinho, Ancelotti, the short-lived Benitez for half a season, who was replaced just in January 2016 by legendary past Galactico of Real Madrid, the Frenchman, Zinedine Zidane - thrust into the world's most coveted managerial position as only his first major club coaching responsibility.
The two are very familiar with each other since their playing days in Italy. In the year that Simeone won the 1998 UEFA Cup Final as a mid-field player with star studded Inter Milan, Zidane himself starred in the mid-field for their greatest rival in Serie A, Juventus - Zidane's famous team just before his Galactico playing days in Real Madrid. And later they were also both in Spain, with Zidane retiring from Real Madrid in 2006 one year after Simeone left his second stint at Atletico Madrid to return to Argentina and play his last year at Racing in his hometown, Buenos Aires.
|In their famous playing days, these rival managers were fierce rivals on the field - Zinedine Zidane geting the ball away from Diego Simeone, in the 1990's when they were playing for Italy Seria A's leading arch-rivals, Juventus and Inter Milan respectively. Image Credit: The Sun|
Real had lost only three games under Benitez' management, but those three losses in a 5-week period seemed too much for Real Madrid administrators - especially the 0-4 humiliation at Real's home ground against arch-rivals Barcelona, dropping Real one further position down to 3rd in La Liga, just one week after dropping from 1st to 2nd from their other loss to Sevilla. The loss to Villareal on Dec 13 must have been the third and final nail that sealed Benitez' coffin - his replacement by Zinedine Zidane was announced on January 4.
Zidane has been credited with a "resurgence" and "turn-around" at Real Madrid, even though for virtually all of Zidane's reign, they remained at the same 3rd place in La Liga that they had been at since over 20 rounds ago - until last weekend when Atletico stumbled and Real leapt into 2nd place. Only one loss under Zidane so far (notable against Atletico Madrid!); and their April 2 payback defeat of Barcelona at Barcelona's Camp Nou (1-2) has definitely lifted spirits, with Ronaldo breaking the tied scores with a goal just 5 minutes from the end. Since that single Feb 27 setback against Atletico Madrid, Real has had a long run of eleven wins uninterrupted by draws nor losses - a record that Benitez could not match in 2015.
When Real faced Barcelona for their re-match on Apr 2, Real Madrid's 3rd league position was a distant 12 points away from leaders, Barcelona. With Barcelona shocked into two more consecutive losses after that Apr 2 bad surprise against Real Madrid in the El Clasico match-up, and with Zidane's winning streak, Real were only one point away from Barcelona just two weekends later. And of course a May berth at Milan's San Siro for the penultimate European prize is not bad either.
Will Real Madrid legend, Zinedine Zidane, create even more of a legend by winning the Champions League for Real Madrid in his maiden five months of top-level coaching? Or, in this Madrid derby which has revealed to be the ultimate 2016 destination of the "Road to Milan", will Atletico Madrid have their deserved revenge for always playing second-fiddle to Real and being denied most recently twice in the Champions League by, none other than, Real Madrid in both 2014 and 2015...? (Leave your comment below!)
When the Road to Milan ends at Madrid vs Madrid, it is the date on May 28 that will decide!
Looking for the best place for your San Siro hotel, apartment or b&b? Consider these... !
- Out in Milan's West with the San Siro, along Direct Bus Routes to the Stadium
- Along the Route of Tram 16, the Traditional Way to San Siro
- The Fiera / Lotto Area next to San Siro District
- Places along Milan's fast & new lilac M5 Metro line that ends at the San Siro Stadium terminus:
---- The Northern Suburbs along the Lilac M5 Metro
---- Porta Garibaldi, Hotspot for Transport & Nightlife
---- A Bit Closer In, the Sempione neighbourhood, Leafy Leisurely Restaurant District