Real Madrid-Atlético: All eyes in Europe turn to Spanish capital
It's a bank holiday in the Spanish capital today, as it celebrates 'Madrid Day' - and, on this occasion, a fiesta of football too. No other city can lay claim to having had two Champions League finals all to itself; nor has any other had clubs face each other in two semi-finals. Real and Atlético's first last-four meeting was back in 1959, speaking volumes for a rivalry that has survived the passage of time and refuses to die. In recent years, Barcelona have cut across this struggle between near neighbours to become Real's prime obsession, but Atleti have bounced back and the age-old rivalry is currently experiencing chapter after riveting chapter. There's no substitute for the intensity of this local match-up. The passion of a night like this is unique.
Atlético missing both recognised right-backs
Atlético come into it in firm nick, albeit depleted in one position, right-back, where their two specialists are injured, along with the versatile José María Giménez, who does well wherever you plonk him. It's a real problem for them, as it's the area of the pitch where they'll be dealing with the threat posed by Marcelo. The rest of the XI boasts its usual solidity, starting in goal, where Jan Oblak is such a wall of security. Antoine Griezmann provides the cutting edge in a compact team that give nothing away and are past masters at punishing any mistakes their opponents might make. Diego Simeone continues to keep all his players committed to his gameplan to the last. Today, his chief concern will be stopping the full-backs and Luka Modric.
No Bale for Real - but few think that's much of a shame...
Real will be without Gareth Bale - which, even if it's unkind to say so, no-one's particularly sorry about. Except maybe Florentino Pérez, who on these occasions just loves to show off his constellation-of-stars project to the max. One imagines that Isco will play instead, although whoever comes in will be a top-quality solution. Real are transitioning from their playing model of recent times - one led by the whirlwind individualism of Cristiano Ronaldo on the left - to a new attacking blueprint that hasn't quite come to fruition yet. But, even when they don't play well, they still have a knack for finding the net that's a source of envy to all. And these days their goal-scoring isn't so focused on the guys up front; players are chipping in from all areas, making it all the tougher to rein in.
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