It’s that time of the week again. Time to start preparing your betting slips for the spectucular culmination of this season’s Champions League
Neil Roarty of Footballtips.com gives us the lowdown.
Real Madrid will win the UEFA Champions League final because they have protected their players.
Carlo Ancelotti sacrificed La Liga title to ensure that Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will all be fit and ready for the UEFA Champions League final but Diego Simeone risked his stars and will pay the price in Lisbon on Saturday.
Atletico Madrid are La Liga champions, thanks to a typically hard fought 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Nou Camp last Saturday. Los Rojiblancos finished on 90 points, three ahead of both Barcelona and Real Madrid, but at what cost?
Diego Simeone’s sacrifice for winning the Spanish championship is that his team will almost certainly line-up in Lisbon without both Diego Costa and Arda Turan. Costa suffered a ‘grade one’ hamstring tear against Barcelona while Turan limped off with a pelvic injury. Both players face a race against time to make the squad for Saturday but even if they are declared fit, they will not be 100% and so will be at best less effective than usual and at worst a hindrance to their team mates.
Contrast that with Real Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti, a man who won three titles as a player and three as a manager (in France, Italy and England), decided some weeks ago that he would give up on dreams of La Liga in order to ensure that his players were fit for a title at ‘La Decima’, which has been a preoccupation around the Bernabeu since Zinedine Zidane’s volley gave Real their ninth Champions League trophy in 2002.
Real picked up five points from their final four matches in La Liga. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric, four of the six players that will make up Madrid’s front six started just two games apiece in that run of fixtures. Karim Benzema started three, the latter of which he was substituted with an adductor problem. Ancelotti probably regrets playing the Frenchman in that one extra match. Had those four started all four of Real’s final fixtures then they may well have picked up 12 points from a possible 12, which would have seen them finish four points clear of Atletico as La Liga champions.
The sacrifice was made, however, so that Real Madrid’s star men would be fit and healthy for what is arguably the most important match in the club’s history and it will be a risk well worth taking if they can beat Atletico to the Champions League title. ‘La Decima’ will be remembered 50 years from now but the identity of the 2014 La Liga champions, much like that of the 1996 champions, may not.
It is to Simeone’s huge credit that he has steered Atletico to La Liga glory and having captained the side to the title in 1996 there was a certain symmetry about the win. However, the price that he has paid for this most unexpected of triumphs is that his players will not be anywhere near as fit as their opponents on Saturday and that is going to give Real the edge.
If Costa is absent then Atletico lose a huge presence and worker in attack, who would occupy the eyes and minds of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane (despite every effort it appears as though Pepe will not make the final). Similarly, Turan’s work rate is as important for the side as his attacking guile. David Villa, Tiago and Gabi, who are all north of 30, cannot be expected to make up for these losses and it may be that Atletico find themselves over-run and unable to break swiftly.
That would effectively nullify Los Rojiblancos’ threat in the Stadium of Light and would invite yet more pressure onto the defence. They have coped admirably all season but Real Madrid showed in the two Copa Del Rey fixtures that if they are given any opportunity to take the impetus then they can punish their rivals. The semi-final tie finished 5-0 on aggregate to Los Merengues with Turan and Costa both absent in a meek 2-0 second leg defeat.
The fact that both could be missing on Saturday, plus the fact that their team mates are likely to be exhausted following a gruelling title run-in, means that we could well see a repeat in Lisbon this weekend.
Neil Roarty is the editor of Footballtips.com, the best place for Champions League, Premier League and World Cup tips