By Matthew Bostock
When the dust finally settled on the Champions League semi-final fixtures earlier this month, the outcome had resulted in a mouth-watering final. A Madrid derby is a feisty encounter at the best of times and when these two giants of Spanish football meet face to face tomorrow evening it promises to be no different, except this time the Champions League trophy, ‘Old Big Ears’ himself, is up for grabs. In previous years, Real and Athletico have had contrasting fortunes with Real having by far the most success of the two. Athletico, meanwhile, have had something of a rollercoaster ride, with constant failed managerial changes and financial predicaments.
This season, however, with Diego Simeone at the helm, Athletico have contested Real’s dominance, having claimed the La Liga crown following a great season. Having played an energetic brand of football they now have the opportunity to complete a historic double, which would go down undoubtedly as the clubs greatest. Real Madrid, on the other hand, are in search of ‘La Decima’ – the tenth. This refers to Real’s obsession with winning their tenth European cup, one which they have been on the hunt for since 2002 after that sumptuous Zinedine Zidane volley. This fixation on being crowned kings of Europe once more has cost many Real managers their jobs; Carlo Ancelotti will no doubt know what looms at the price of failure.
Local bragging rights will take a back seat when these two clash tomorrow as the pressure to win will reach fever-pitch. For Real Madrid it is a glorious chance to reassert their dominance as a European force, for Athletico it’s a chance to spoil their neighbour’s party and stake their own claim as a rising force. This is the first time a European Cup final will be contested by two clubs from the same city and it is sure to be one that lives long in the memory. Even the Madrid press are jubilant at this fact, so much so that Madrid-based sport tabloid AS led with the headline “De Madrid Al Cielo” – “From Madrid to heaven.” This match will be the closest thing to heaven on earth. High stakes if ever there were any.
For the losers of the two semi-finals, Chelsea and Bayern Munich, Champions League glory will have to wait for another year. Both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have came under heavy criticism for their choice of tactics in those games and now face a fight to keep their reputations intact. No doubt the Spanish press will enjoy taking a pop at Jose Mourinho, who during his time at Real Madrid, managed to cause quite a stir amongst them. Many took pleasure in Athletico’s second half dismantling of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and will be sure not to let Mourinho forget this defeat in a hurry. It also seems, according to the media, that this is the end of Gaurdiola’s tika-tika style of football after a humiliating 4-0 loss at home to Ancelotti’s men. Certainly not the way he envisaged going out of the European Cup. Make no mistake however, both Spanish teams thoroughly deserved to win the way they did. Athletico showed grit and determination to ease past Chelsea whilst Real blew the European Champions away with a brilliant display of counter attacking football.
Champions League finals in recent history have provided a compelling watch, but this latest one is without a doubt the most intriguing as Spanish football is already the real winner, no matter what the outcome. Neutrals will naturally want to see an end to end, high scoring game but the supporters of each club would probably take a boring 1-0 score line, if it went in their favour. However, if this season is anything to go by, this curtain-closing encounter promises to be anything but boring.
Matthew is currently in his second year at MMU studying History and looking to pursue a career in sports journalism. He has a keen interest in all things football and Manchester United-related. Follow him on Twitter @mattybostock