And there we have it: Real Madrid and Atlético will play each other in the semi-finals of the Champions League, first at the Bernabéu on May 2 and with the return leg at the Calderón on May 10 – the final Madrid derby at the venerable stadium. For either side it will a badge of honour more to have beaten their neighbor to earn a place in the final in Cardiff at the other’s expense. The footballing fates occasionally throw up this sort of surprise. We at AS ran a poll the day before the draw and a majority of Atlético fans preferred the prospect of facing Madrid in the last four rather than in another final that would carry such unpleasant precedents for the red-and-white half of Madrid. Real fans preferred the other idea of another final against their city rivals, and not just because of the two that have gone before I imagine.
A lot of people think that Atlético have more chances to beat Madrid over two games than one. What Diego Simeone would have liked was for the first leg to be played at the Calderón. Not everybody feels the same about two-legged affairs, but for Simeone’s methods it would have been preferable. That way he would not have to take risks at home, where even a 0-0 draw would be a decent result, because a 1-1 in the return leg would be sufficient. Simeone is a specialist on not giving opposition sides anything for free and punishing the slightest mistake, which sooner or later inevitable will come. Madrid on the other hand would have preferred the second leg at home. Zinedine Zidane’s side are happier going at it full tilt in the final 90 minutes, when they know what they need to do and to play the decisive game in front of their own fans, in their atmosphere.
This semi-final has a distant precedent, in 1959, in a tie that was forced into a decisive playoff in Zaragoza. But I prefer to look at the more recent examples. Real Madrid and Atlético are playing each other for the fourth consecutive season in the Champions League. On the three occasions before this Real Madrid have always been successful, but the matches were close and Madrid made to suffer. Nobody other than Real Madrid have knocked Atlético out of the Champions League in the last three seasons, which says it all about the level of football in this city, which is living through privileged times. Furthermore, both sides go into the tie in good shape: Simeone and Atlético have overcome their slight slump while Zidane has managed Cristiano Ronaldo’s playing time much better than his predecessors in previous seasons, which was an excellent decision.