After months of competition and some knock-out surprises, the protagonists are set for next week’s UEFA Champions League final in Milan Italy and C.J. Radune and Joel Forquer of the Prime Sports Network are here to help get you ready.
>>Tune in to Prime Sports Soccer live this Sunday at 11:30 a.m. EST
The final match will be the second all-Spain final in three years as both Real and Atletico Madrid outlasted and dispatched all challengers en route to facing each another in the San Siro stadium to claim the most prestigious trophy in European club competition. The match will be the sixth Champions League final to feature two teams from the same country, and Real Madrid is no stranger to the pinnacle match having won two of the prior five same-country encounters.
The last time these two teams met in the Champions League final was just two years ago in Lisbon. The affair was settled in extra time in Real’s favor despite Atletico jumping out to the early lead. The end result was 4-1, and gave Real their 10th European title. Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo remains the tournament’s highest scorer this season with 16 goals from 37 attempts on target, while Atletico is led by Antoine Griezmann who has seven strikes from 22 shots on target. Atletico may be considered the scrappier of the two sides having overcome both Barcelona and Bayern Munich to make it to the final. Real arguably had an easier ride into the match having faced Wolfsburg and Manchester City in their corresponding matchups. That said, these two sides know one another very well and are likely to embark on a cagey early affair as a result.
C.J.’s players to watch:
- Atletico Madrid – Saul Niguez M – After recently committing his long-term future to Atletico it is time for Niguez to show the rest of the world what they missed out on. The midfielder is one of only a handful of Atletico players to have seen action in all of the side’s Champions League matches this term. He is the leading scorer out of Atletico’s midfield in this competition (3), one of which was enough to send Bayern Munich to a loss in the first leg of their semi-final matchup. After that match speculation ran rampant that he would make a headline transfer story this summer, but instead he will stay a further five years at the Spanish side. Niguez can be a catalyst for the scrappy performances we have come to expect from this team, and the side’s fate may be closely linked with his performance against their cross-town rivals.
- Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo F – I will not break tradition for this week’s final. Ronaldo has been the tournament’s top scorer by a long distance, and this match gives him another opportunity to demonstrate that he is capable of stepping up to the table on the biggest stages of the sport. This player has been criticized for going absent in big matches, and he won’t want to shoulder that criticism yet again. His incredible tally of 16 goals is remarkable and he is one of a handful of players who have had great form both domestically and in Europe. This match will feel familiar to him, so there will be no excuses. He needs to come up big for his side and help them win some silverware to not have the season end on a low.
Joel’s Players to watch:
- Atletico Madrid – Diego Godin D – Atletico’s Diego Godin has been one of the team’s defensive cornerstones this season and has helped star goalkeeper Jan Oblak to earn a majority of his 24 clean sheets in 38 La Liga matches and eight clean sheets in 12 UCL matches. In La Liga matches, Atletico’s goal differential was dwarfed by Real, but the team only conceded 18 goals in 38 matches. In 11 Champions League matches, he leads the squad in interceptions (37), clearances (71), and shots blocked (10). Godin and the rest of the Atletico defense will have to be at their absolute best going up against the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema, and Bale.
- Real Madrid – Gareth Bale M – Real Madrid may have had the easier route to the final, but after disposing of Roma 4-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16, the performances have been mixed at best. Aside from a Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick in the second leg of the semifinals that saw the Spanish side narrowly triumph over Wolfsburg, no one else on the squad has found the back of the net. Gareth Bale arguably came the closest when his shot deflected off Fernando for an own goal in the semifinal second leg match against Manchester City. With 19 goals plus 10 assists in La Liga and zero goals plus one assist in UCL play, Bale will need to put in the performance of a season to help Real’s chances of triumphing over city rivals Atletico.
Be sure to tune in this Sunday May 22nd at 11:30 a.m. ET to hear C.J. and Joel as they are joined by Oulala.com’s Ben Carlotti to set the stage for the May 28th final at the San Siro stadium in Milan.