MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) analyses the Champions League final from Milan on Saturday night featuring Madrid rivals Real and Atletico.
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid | Saturday 19.45 | BT Sport Europe
WeLoveBetting readers are already looking forward to collecting cash on Saturday night with Atletico Madrid recommended to take Champions League glory at each-way odds of 21/1 back in September.
It’s a cushy position to be in but all or anyone who followed me in on Los Colchoneros will of course be willing Diego Simeone’s side on to complete the business within the four walls of Milan’s iconic San Siro this weekend.
For me, it’s no major surprise to see the Champions League final contested by two La Liga clubs. Spanish sides have claimed nine of the past 15 Champions and Europa League titles and La Liga’s elite will make that 10 from 16 here, as for the second time in three years, Madrid meets Madrid.
In 2014 Real Madrid ran out 4-1 extra-time winners in a superbly-entertaining encounter. But that was a rare Los Blancos success in this fixture and Atletico are determined to put right those wrongs when the pair face-off again.
Zinedine Zidane’s Real are once again favourites to lift the trophy but since that Lisbon final two years ago, Los Merengues have W1-D3-L6 against their rivals from the south of the city. Their sole success came in this competition last year when a Javier Hernandez goal in the 88th minute defeated 10-man Atletico at the Bernabeu.
Go back further and Real’s head-to-head-record against their neighbours since 2013/14 reads W3-D6-L6. In 11 of those 15 fixtures, Los Blancos have scored once or not at all. So can they really and truly be 8/5 (BetVictor) front-runners to claim an 11th European crown?
Putting my Atletico obsession aside, it’s almost offensive to see Simeone’s side as big as 23/10 (Bet365). Sure, under the outstanding Argentine Real Madrid are the only team to knock Atletico out of Champions League action. But Los Colchoneros have seen off Barcelona twice, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Milan in knockout football since 2013/14.
This season alone Atletico have ousting tournament favourites Barcelona and Bayern Munich en-route to Milan and the Mattress Makers look well equipped to run their more illustrious city rivals to the wire this weekend. Relishing their role as underdogs, Atleti are intent on clinching their first title on Europe’s biggest stage.
Simeone will demand relentless commitment and work-rate, coupled with unrivalled tactical discipline and organisation. It’s been the bedrock to his success in Spain and led Atletico to a first derby triumph in 14 years, a La Liga title against the odds and a win over Real in the Copa del Rey final in 2013.
And in fairness, going back to the previous Champions League final, Atletico did lead for 54 minutes and were only denied by a Sergio Ramos leveller in the third minute of injury time. The margins of Real Madrid triumphs have been so fine, for me at least, Los Colchoneros just can’t be ignored.
We’re talking about a side that’s shipped just six goals in 10 Champions League knockout matches since the start of last season, kept 15 clean sheets in 21 Champions League outings and have their first-choice back five available. With Augusto Fernandez and Gabi sitting deep and in compact positions, penetrating this side takes serious steel and ingenuity.
The majority of Simeone’s squad that featured in the Lisbon loss have moved on but in Antoine Griezmann – scorer of seven Champions League goals this season – the underdogs possess a player of pace and precision, capable of hurting a Madrid defence that doesn’t always stand firm.
With Fernando Torres and Griezmann pressing high, Atleti will look to pressurise Los Blancos up the field, as they did against Barca and Bayern. It worked a treat against the two possession-obsessive machines and so there’s no reason why it won’t again here.
So immediately I’m going in guns blazing on the 13/16 (1.81 in decimals) from BetVictor on Atletico with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start. With this selection, we’ll make money if the Mattress Makers avoid defeat in 90 minutes – a half-stakes profit is earned if the match ends all square with a full-stakes profit taken should Atleti win.
I don’t want to totally dismiss Real, it would be foolish too with a squad filled with superstar names. But unlike Atletico, Los Blancos were presented with a far more straightforward path to the final and still made more of a mess of it than their supposed poor relations.
Roma could and should have sealed their fate in the Last-16 whilst Zidane’s troops failed to impress in two legs against Wolfsburg and an uninterested Manchester City.
The Madrid media are making a song and dance about Zidane – had La Liga started when the French legend was given the job at the turn of the year, Real would have taken the title – and a W15-D1-L1 return from their last 17 demands major respect.
But all the evidence suggests this will be another arm-wrestle, which Real don’t tend to fare well in. Since April last year, there have been four Madrid derbies with just four goals scored and since February 2014, eight of the 12 showdowns have featured fewer than three goals.
With goals in short supply, another close encounter is forecast. Exactly half of those aforementioned 12 encounters have seen the sides locked level at half-time, a repeat at 21/20 (Betfair) stands out too. So I’ll happily add the half-time draw to the portfolio.
And considering six of the past 15 Champions League finals have required extra-time and/or penalties, it’s perhaps wise to snap up Bwin’s 11/2 for the final to be decided on penalties.
Low-scoring encounters tend to produce more draws. And it’s worth noting, Real’s extra-time success a couple of years ago included the first extra-time goals in a Champions League final for more than two decades. Prior to the 2014 match, 10 of the previous 11 Champions League finals that weren’t decided in 90 minutes all went to penalties.
Nine of the most recent 12 Champions League finals saw both sides score but I’ll leave that alone and focus on three solid angles on Saturday; Atletico to avoid defeat in a tight and tense encounter that has the capacity to go the distance. Bring it on.