Defence is the best form of attack?
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid, Champions League Final, Saturday 7.45pm
We have been truly blessed with some thrilling Champions League ties in recent years. Seven of the last 12 for example have had over 2.5 goals, while we haven’t had to sit through a 0-0 draw for 12 years since AC Milan beat Juventus on penalties in 2003. However that run of glorious attacking football and goal-crazy finals would appear to be coming to an end on Saturday evening courtesy of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.
But that doesn’t mean we have to sit miserably through 90 minutes of tight, tense defending. Simeone’s Madrid are built on solid foundations, and that tenacious back five can help upset the odds and bag us a winner. While in the last 20 years of Champions League finals both teams have scored 70 per cent of the time and there’s been an average of 2.7 goals a game, the stats suggest we should ignore those trends and back Atletico to win to nil.
Diego Simeone’s defensive statistics since joining Atletico Madrid are simply mind-boggling. In 256 matches in all competitions Atleti have kept 135 clean sheets. 135?! For anyone without an abacus to hand that means that Simeone’s team have kept the opposition out in 53 per cent of their matches.
Take out the ‘settling in’ period for Simeone – let’s say the half season he was at Atletico Madrid after signing in December 2011 from Racing Club – and that record becomes 121 clean sheets in 225 games. It’s a phenomenal achievement that has reached new heights this season. In 2015/16 Atletico have played 56 games and kept 35 clean sheets (63 per cent), winning without conceding 29 times. That includes a 3-0 win away to Europa League Champions Sevilla, a 1-0 win away to Real Madrid, a 2-0 win at home against Barcelona and a 1-0 win at home to Bayern Munich.
In the Champions League alone this year, Simeone’s squad have kept eight clean sheets in 12 matches.
‘But what about Real Madrid?’ favourite-backers will cry. This is the side that scored in 87 per cent of their league games this season and averaged 2.9 goals a game while Cristiano Ronaldo found the onion bag just shy of a bazillion times. Yes, you may be right. But in the last 10 Madrid derby games Atletico have kept five clean sheets, while Cristiano has only netted once in the last seven meetings with Atletico. Diego Simeone appears to have CR7’s number.
While Zinedine Zidane’s team have blown away weaker domestic opposition, their attacking credentials haven’t always stacked up against the elite. In games only against the top four in La Liga, and Champions League games against PSG and Manchester City, Real Madrid have played 10 times and failed to score in five of them. In Europe they scored just once over 180 minutes against PSG and it took an own goal from Man City’s Fernando to decide the two-legged semi-final which otherwise remained scoreless.
Incidentally in those 10 matches, Ronaldo scored just once.
The Paddy Power traders have complete confidence in Real Madrid finding the back of the net however, and make them to win inside 90 minutes, and an odds-on shot to lift the European Cup for an 11th time. When these teams met in the 2014 Champions League Final Atletico were less than a minute away from upsetting the odds, until Sergio Ramos’ 93rd minute header gave Real Madrid a 1-1 draw, and they went on to win 4-1 in extra time. Atletico are to win inside 90 minutes this time around, and to finally get their hands on ol’ big ears.
The on Atletico to win to nil might be the shrewd punt however considering Diego Simeone’s record, while the on Atletico winning 1-0 also packs plenty of punch.
While there’s almost certainly going to be few goals – under 2.5 is – while the busiest man on the pitch might be referee Mark Clattenburg. There have been 42 yellow cards and one sending off in the last six Madrid derbies and it’s just that someone will be heading for an early bath on Saturday night.
A dirty, niggly game with few goalscoring opportunities? Sounds likely. A win and a clean sheet for Atletico? Our bank balance certainly hopes so…