In September, I placed a bet that Real Madrid would win the UEFA Champions League. I believed that Real Madrid would win the Champions League when I made that wager, and eight months later nothing has changed. That’s not to say that Atletico haven’t had a fantastic year that has been profitable for savvy betters. Constantly disrespected by the bookmakers, their favorable odds netted the sharps a nice payday while the irresistible odds that were offered for Chelsea and Barcelona in the prior two rounds wreaked havoc on the casual player’s bankroll. I’ve looked at the two clubs head to head results, motivation, recent form, and most important player, and believe that while Atletico have had a fantastic run this season, all signs point to the fabled Decima finally becoming a reality for Real Madrid.
Atletico’s fightback versus Barcelona last week was commendable, but the size advantage they enjoyed versus La Blaugrana will not be repeated versus Real Madrid. Barcelona’s possession-based philosophy played perfectly into the defensive style of Atletico, but Real’s direct approach will prove to be a more tricky task for Los Rojiblancos to contain. We’ve seen these two sides play four times this season, and while Atletico won the first match eight months ago, Real are unbeaten in the three matches that took place in 2014, including a 2-0 win at the Calderon (although admittedly, both goals in that match came from the spot). Neither side has been dominant against the other, but the results from the 4 matches indicate a slight advantage for Real Madrid.
While Real Madrid have had their share of domestic dominance throughout their storied history, their European conquests are why they are arguably the biggest club in the world. Real Madrid’s pursuit of La Decima has been the club’s priority since 2002, and judging by their final 3 league performances, the full attention of Los Blancos was turned to Lisbon the moment they booked their spot in the final. This is in stark contrast to Atletico Madrid, whose search for their own Decima ended in triumph with a point at the Camp Nou that secured the club’s tenth Spanish crown. This was a massive accomplishment for Atletico, but you can’t help but get the sense that the game versus Barcelona was their true cup final, while Real Madrid have looked disinterested in the league since they qualified against Bayern. The difference between the two clubs is that while Atletico’s players want to win the Champions League, Real Madrid’s players feel like they have to win, which is why I’m giving the edge to Real Madrid in the motivation department.
The recent form of both teams has been far from convincing, but both sides had strong finishes to the season that they will look to build on at the Stadio de Luz. Once Real brought Luka Modric on in the second half of last weekend’s game versus Espanyol, they looked like the side that ripped Bayern Munich apart at the Allianz. Atletico haven’t won since their victory in London against Chelsea in April, but two comebacks against Malaga and Barcelona showed the never-say-die attitude that manager Diego Simeone has instilled in his club. Neither team comes into this match in fantastic form, which is why I’m calling this category a draw.
While it would be easy to talk about Ronaldo or Bale as Real Madrid’s most important player this Saturday, the reality is that the one player who can’t have a poor game is Luka Modric. The Croatian’s willingness to track back on defense and ability to thread the perfect through ball to Ronaldo or Bale on the wings is going to be the key to breaching Atletico’s air tight defense, especially in the absence of Xabi Alonso. As Alexis Sanchez’s goal last weekend proved, it takes a truly special play to beat the Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is my most important player this weekend for the underdogs. Courtois has been rock solid for Atletico all season, and with the lethal dead ball skills Ronaldo and Bale possess, he will need to maintain that brilliant form to quell the chances that any foul near Courtois goal will present. If either of these players has a poor match, it will almost certainly spell defeat for their respective side.
As it’s often the case with matches between top sides, a moment of brilliance or a calamitous mistake will most likely be what decides the match. Real Madrid have the more talented side, and when taking into consideration the squads, key players, recent form, and motivation, the signs point to a narrow Real Madrid victory. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this game go to extra time, so instead of playing the more favorable odds for a Real Madrid win in regulation, the picks for the match are Real Madrid to win the UEFA Champions League at -200 (risking $200 to win $100) and a regulation score of 1-1 at +570 (risking $100 to win $570). As always, bet responsibly.
Prediction: 2–1 Real Madrid after extra time.