Five key Champions League final battles between rivals Real and Atleti
Holly Thackeray | May 26, 2016
Key Champions League final clashes between Madrid men
Saturday’s showpiece, the Champions League final, is match where the two finalist foes know each other better than most, as famous footballing city Milan plays host to a rather special Madrid derby.
As bitter Spanish capital rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, who usually make for noisy neighbours anyway, meet in the grand finale for the second time in two years, Coral writers consider the key head-to-head battles that could hand an advantage to one of these European giants on a star-studded evening in northern Italy…
Who will come out tops then, in five fierce player contests on the continent? Let us know in the comments below if you agree…
Keylor Navas v Fernando Torres
Prodigal Atletico poaching son Torres could very well see the Champions League final be his last game for his boyhood club, with the Spanish striker’s loan deal to run out in summer and yet to be renewed.
As it happens, Torres will be playing this match on San Siro turf, the stadium of current parent club AC Milan, who saw fit to farm the former Liverpool and Chelsea forward out, but have not secured European football themselves for next season.
So, Torres has a point to prove after returning to somewhere near his previous fearsome form with 12 goals this term, and perhaps even a contract to earn. Who stands in his way? Los Blancos number one Navas.
The Costa Rica keeper has his own scores to settle after Real attempted to offload him in favour of David de Gea last summer, but has knuckled down to impress and keep 22 clean sheets in all competitions.
Though, Madrid-born marksman Torres (6/1 with Coral for the final say) memorably notched a brace past Navas in the Copa del Rey in 2015 and it would be a magical moment, seemingly scripted in the stars, for the sharpshooter to find the net again.
Sergio Ramos v Antoine Griezmann
With Raphael Varane injured and usual centre back partner Pepe known for being rash, much will be left to Spain centre back Ramos to keep the Real rearguard staunch.
Of course, the decorated defender has been here before and proved a hero at the other end last time these two teams met in a Champions League final, with Ramos’ goal crucial in the lifting of La Decima.
Yet, here Ramos could well meet his match in goal gobbler Griezmann, whose movement he will be tasked with containing. Aside from that, the Spain star may see his own forways forward with the ball restricted due to the France forward’s own defensive diligence and pressing from the front. So even if Atleti leading scorer Griezmann, who has hit four and assisted five in 18 career appearances against Los Blancos, does not strike a goal himself, he could certainly stop Real playing out from the back.
Toni Kroos v Saul Niguez
Midfield schemer Kroos is yet to truly justify his Galactico standing at the Bernabeu, amid rumours he could be moved on this summer. With the likes of Isco and James Rodriguez likely benched in the Germany World Cup winner’s favour, and with a proper shield in Casemiro behind him to relieve defensive duties as well as Luka Modric to pull strings, Kroos must go for the jugular.
As always Atletico will be set up to disrupt, with a selection from of Augusto Fernandez, Tiago, Koke and Gabi Fernandez tasked with tracking back in a central berth, though it is sought-after Saul Niguez who despite playing wide last time out is most likely to be Kroos’ competitor in a box-to-box role.
Where Saul could win in his willingness to get involved in the rough and tumble as well as instigation of attacks, though a Kroos masterclass could leave the young Spaniard in the shade, with both able to contribute goals in the opposition box. This isn’t the German’s first final, but can Saul be called upon to make the difference on the big stage?
Cristiano Ronaldo v Juanfran
One of the most reliable and underrated La Liga right backs, leader at the back Juanfran is a real asset to Atletico and a savvy defender key to Diego Simeone’s style. Yet, he comes up against one of, if not the, best players in the world in Ronaldo.
Juanfran has kept Ronaldo under wraps before, but it looks unlikely, as in the last Champions League final, that the Portugal superstar can be silenced for the whole game.
The all-time Champions League top scorer will roam inward from the left wing and, after notching 15 goals in 24 career outings against Atletico, is 4/1 to bag a brace or better in this San Siro scuffle.
Karim Benzema v Jose Gimenez
No here’s an intriguing one, as Benzema battles young-gun Gimenez centrally, with the French frontman having been left out of France’s Euro 2016 squad.
This is Benzema’s last chance to secure silverware this season, then, and the intelligent attacker can certainly pose plenty of problems. Diego Godin is a well-seasoned star, but partner Gimenez, one of the most talented young defenders around, must also make no mistake in the limelight.
Generally superb against Bayern Munich in the semi-final second leg, the Uruguayan prodigy also gave away a penalty, and savvy Benzema (7/4 to score anytime) could exploit any rawness to Real’s advantage.