An eternal derby in San Siro
Atlético are seeking revenge in Milan and Madrid, a non-trophyless season. Both sides have their full armoury available for the final.
On May 7 2000, Atlético Madrid were relegated to Segunda División after an insufficient draw with Oviedo. Two weeks later, Madrid won their eighth European Cup, beating Valencia in the final. Fourteen years later the sides met in the Champions League final and just 735 days after that match in Lisbon, a game that many thought unrepeatable will be staged again in Milan. The chain of events shines a favourable light on Madrid, who remain at the top of the tree, and an even brighter one on Atlético, who climbed all the way back up to join them. “Few sides offer more to a player than Atlético,” said Diego Simeone recently, in reference to his body of work.
Lisbon is the great interloper. Madrid have changed little since then. Six starters from 2014 will be on the pitch in San Siro. As then, the pre-match routine has been the same: preparation at Valdebebas, the journey the day before the game. Atlético have attempted to push that evening as far from the memory as possible. Six new players will be in the starting line-up and the club even tried to gain permission to wear a different strip to the one they wore in Lisbon. Simeone’s side have trained in four different locations (Las Rozas, the Calderón, Pozuelo and San Siro) and the coach has been more restless than usual. He visited Inter’s training ground and ruled out taking his players there, he inspected the pitch at San Siro, he has studiously avoided the word revenge (opportunity sounds better), he used the same players for press conferences as he did before the matches against Bayern and hired the same plane that took Barcelona to Granada and Sevilla to Basel. People started to talk of superstition. “People underestimate us by saying that,” Simeone replied.
Both Madrid and Atlético are in better shape than two years ago. More so in the case of the rojiblancos, who have had two weeks of rest and can call on their preferred starting 11 for the game. Included will be Fernando Torres, who has scored 10 of his 12 goals this season since February and who scored in six of the last eight matches in La Liga. Stefan Savic, who is more emotionally stable than José Giménez, will partner Diego Godín in defence and Augusto Fernández will add some extra steel in midfield.
Madrid will also field their usual line-up with Casemiro, praised exaggeratingly by Simeone, and the BBC apparently at full fitness despite all of its members suffering injuries over the past month and a half. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have only played together once in Real’s last seven games but the layoffs (Bale missed 20 games this season) have not blunted their efficiency: 98 goals between them.
Previous meetings favour one half of Madrid or the other, depending on how you look at them. Madrid have the weight of history on their side (three European meetings and three successes) and Atlético have the present (one defeat in the last 10 derbies). Mark Clattenburg will officiate, and he has proven to be a deficient riot cop. His long arm in the recent match between Chelsea and Tottenham resulted in fines of almost a million euros for the clubs. He has watched the Lisbon final three times to study the form. It is estimated that the economic impact of the game will be matched by the number of spectators: 400 million, in both cases. In terms of merchandising, Madrid edge it 60 percent to 40. It’s the same in terms of responsibility. Cibeles is an obligation and Neptune, a dream that Atlético fans don’t want to see grow old. The 11th or the first: whoever rules in the capital will rule the world.
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