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Brains, brawn & cojones. Why Atletico Madrid can edge Real in the Champions League Final

A San Siro jinx and Atleti's derby record can kill Real's Euro dream says our La Liga expert, fine-wine lover and all-round good guy, Graham Hunter

Real Madrid have no idea how to win official matches in the San Siro. Atlético don’t know how to win Champions League finals. Something’s gotta give on Saturday night.

Or as Hugh Cornwell and the Stranglers snarled in 1977; Something Better Change.

The most successful club in European competition has played in the vast, imposing, noisy San Siro, Milan, 14 times. But not a single victory.

  • Four draws, 10 sore defeats starting from 1956 and continuing to their last visit in 2010. Possibly their most pathetic record anywhere.

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Hidden away in there, like a photo showing George Clooney wearing high-waisted bell-bottomed trousers with shoulder length hair, hippy beads and a ‘Screw the Man!’ tattoo when he was 18, is also the most humiliating night in the entire European history of Real Madrid.

A 5-0 whopping by Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten’s AC Milan in April 1989.  At the San Siro.

Even as you read it, Bernd Schuster, Emilio Butragueño, Michel and Hugo Sánchez just shivered, like someone walked across their grave. But Atleti have a hoodoo to do away with. They do too!

  • In 1974 they were within seconds from beating Bayern Munich in Brussels but let in a softie. Replay? Lost 4-0.
  • In 2014 against their city rivals it was the same bitter story. Seconds away from winning. Whipped 4-1 in extra time.

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They have a habit of fighting their way to the summit, peering over with the feeling of victory coursing through them… and then falling over.

Before the match starts on Saturday night, people will accuse them of having a glass jaw. Not this time.

If Madrid are to continue their record – they generally rise to this occasion (10 wins, three defeats) by winning whether they lead, trail or it takes extra time – then they’ll need to excel.

Atletico are, in almost every aspect, better than they were two years ago.

Look at the state in which the arrived at Lisbon before losing to the inspiration of Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale.

They lost to Levante, drew with Malaga and drew with Barcelona (admittedly to clinch the title.) Physically and mentally they were tired. So was their manager.

Already robbed of an absolute key player in Arda, through injury, Diego Simeone took an absolutely outrageous gamble on Diego Costa.

 

Paul Clement (former assistant to Carlo Ancelotti) told me recently hat Real Madrid, in risk-assessing their opponents, asked their medics about a guy who’d broken down three times in recent weeks with a hamstring problem. The last time, just seven days before the Champions League Final.

Madrid’s doctors and physics told Ancelotti and Clement: ‘No way can he play, no chance’.

But he was picked, lasted 16 awkward minutes and stumbled off.

It was a blow to Atleti morale, it undercut Simeone’s authority and sense of invincibility with his own players and it robbed them of a much-needed substitute option in extra time as Los Rojiblancos faded.

Cut to today. To reach this final they’ve knocked out Barça and Bayern. Brilliant.

 

In La Liga Atleti finished the season with seven wins in their last eight games, scoring 15 times and conceding three. Powerful.

They are fitter, more experienced, have more goal options and have dominated Madrid in the derbies since the 2014 final.

Since Lisbon the two sides have played 10 times and Madrid have won just once. That doesn’t guarantee them a win on Saturday, far from it. But it shows brains, brawn and .. cojones.

No matter that Madrid, under Zizou, are happier, more confident, more fluent and harder working. They’ll be outworked and out run. Take that as read.

Los Blancos stand to win this contest IF their special players produce something special.

The world expects

No question that it’s a tight call, no question that Bale, Benzema and Cristiano (Calling Milan, Calling Milan … THIS is the BBC) can overpower any team on their day.

But Atleti, to me, look like they’re in a position to edge this one. Look for both late and early goals.

Following Sergio Ramos’ dramatic late equalising header in Lisbon the 10 Madrid derbies have contained FIVE goals within the first 10 minutes of the match and SEVEN in the last 10 minutes. Four of them came in either minute 88 or 89!

The world will expect Antione Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo to score. Perhaps they will.

  • But I’ll have a wee, sweet, tenner on Fernando ‘El Niño’ Torres  (above) to continue his ASTONISHING rate of almost always scoring in quarter finals, semi finals and finals. Plus he’s only lost two of 10 finals in which he’s played at .

As for cards, referee Mark Clattenburg has officiated oodles of games with both sides. No red yet.

But tempers will be stretched, this is personal. This time there’ll be one.

Sit back, choose your side. Enjoy. Viva España.

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