As a footballing community, we are probably experiencing the closest competition between the two Madrid teams in a generation. When Atletico battled their way to the 2014 La Liga title with Diego Simeone at the helm, it provided a huge wake up call to Real, and indeed Barcelona, that at last a side had arrived capable of breaking the long held duopoly between the two. Even when Diego Costa, Arda Turan, and Thibaut Courtois departed the Vicente Calderon for vast sums, their replacements kept Atletico in touch with their huge spending neighbours.
Now, with the city rivals having played in their respective first legs of the Champions League semi-finals, the possibility of seeing a rematch of the 2014 Champions League final in Milan is very much on.
Atletico, having already showed their relentless hard work and stylish football to put out holders Barcelona in the quarter-final, produced an equally impressive performance to edge Bayern Munich 1-0 thanks to a goal from Saul Niguez and deny their all-star opponents what could have been a vital away goal.
Real, oppositely, will be left to rue the brilliance of Joe Hart as they came away from the Etihad without an away goal. The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo to a late thigh injury saw the visitors somewhat reserved in attack. Even with world record signing Gareth Bale making plenty of runs from the right wing, they looked noticeably short on ideas. Indeed their best chances came from corners, subsequently nullified by Hart.
The return legs will pose different scenarios for the pair, in terms of what they have to do. Upon visiting the Allianz Arena, it could provide Atleti’s biggest challenge yet against Bayern, desperate to overturn the 1-0 deficit, and more than likely to unleash the full force of their dominant attack on the Spanish side. Furthermore, a solitary home defeat in 24 matches provides Atleti with enough proof that their work is not nearly done.
Yes, Simeone has built his side on a defence of the ultimate solidity, but will it be enough to blunt the threat of Arturo Vidal, Robert Lewandowski, and Thomas Muller. Though even without star defender Diego Godin, Los Rojiblancos made little issue of his absence, and will only carry the confidence that they can do the business without the Uruguayan into the game in Germany.
Real, on the other hand, will feel the cards are edged in their favour upon the second leg on May 3rd. Their attack may have been blunted with the loss of Ronaldo during the first leg, but his return will provide a huge boost against a Manchester City side who may feel indebted to Hart as Pepe and Casmeiro wasted chances to take an away goal back to Spain. Unbeaten in this season’s competition at the Bernabeu, even against first time the semi-finalists who have nothing to lose, Zinedine Zidane’s side will feel they can win this.
If they do overcome their respective opponents, and face off again at the San Siro, who will emerge as champions?
On the face of it, you’d be right to be utterly nonplussed as to who might win? Real’s foray of attacking talents against the almost immovable back line in red and white is a hard one to call. But first they must negotiate the second legs of perilously tight semi finals, where both could win, but both could so easily lose.