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UCL Preview: Four reasons why fourth game could be different for Barcelona and Atlético

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After 270 minutes, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. Unfortunately, we don’t have much that tells us which side is better, a mild inconvenience when you’re trying to figure out which club is most likely to advance from the teams’ UEFA Champions League quarterfinal matchup. Each of their three meetings this season (two in Spain’s Supercopa; one in La Liga) has ended in a draw, with the sides combining for only two goals. Sure, one side could prove clearly better than the other, but there’s nothing in recent history that says that will happen.

Instead, we’re left wondering what, if anything, can keep away goals or penalty kicks from deciding which team advances to Europe’s final four. One day ahead of leg one’s kickoff in Barcelona, there are four possibilities:

1. Lionel Messi is as hot as ever – In the teams’ last meeting, Messi only played 45 minutes, his return in January at the Vicente Calderón marking his first appearance since a thigh injury prematurely ended his 2013. Now fully healthy, Messi has scored in 11 of his last 12 games, accumulating 17 goals along the way. As he showed with three goals in El Clasico, that form’s certainly capable of translating to big games.

(MORE, this weekend: Atlético, Barcelona snare road wins)

source:  2. Atlético has changed things up – In those first three games — 0-0, 1-1, and 0-0 affairs shared between August and January — Diego Simeone started David Villa up top with Diego Costa. In the two August games, Villa actually ended with a higher average position than Costa, who played wide right. In January, however, Villa was farther behind the Atlético number nine, playing alongside Atleti’s midfielders as Simeone crowded the middle of the park.

Now, after the team’s mid-winter slump, Atlético typically starts somebody more suited to that role. Natural midfielder Raúl García has been cast into the starting lineup at Villa’s expense, and while he has often been used as more of a supporting striker than a highly deployed midfielder, Garcíá still brings more of a center-of-the-park mentality to Simeone’s choice XI.

Unfortunately, García is suspended for leg one, a problem exacerbated by the potential absence of Costa. The Brazilian-cum-Spaniard left Monday’s training session with an apparent leg injury. Though Costa had yet to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff by the end of practice, Simeone said it was “unlikely” Costa would play on Tuesday.

Personnel-wise, that means a huge step down. Villa is likely to start up top, while Thiago could join Gabi and Mario Suárez to make a three-man midfield. Or perhaps Uruguayan Cristian Rodríguez will get the call.

Regardless, Atlético will be different. They won’t start two true strikers. But whereas over the last two months that’s been by choice, in Barcelona, it may be by necessity.

(MORE, Barcelona’s path: Win at City | Advance at home)

3. Champions League is different. Right? – I’m not sure how much I believe this will matter, but in the past, when we’ve seen teams face off over 180 minutes (as opposed to 90, as they do in league) the games sure seem to change. Long-term thinking leads to cagier affairs, ones often complicated by the away goals rule. Insert battle versus war analogy here.

There are a few other reasons to believe Champions League, in particular, is different. The stakes are certainly higher, and whereas in Spain Atlético and Barça will get an officiating crew very familiar with each side, Tuesday’s officials hail from Germany.

To whatever extent those things matter, Barcelona will be more familiar with how to deal with them, compounding any differentiating effects that might exist in Champions League.

(MORE, Atlético’s route: Late winner in Milan | Easy day at the Calderón)

source: AP4. Víctor Valdés is out – As Real Madrid’s handling of Iker Casillas has shown, sometimes the effect of a perceived great goalkeeper can be overstated. Very often, good teams have solid options waiting in reserve. It’s not always the end of the world when your number one goes down.

Barcelona’s position, however, may be different. After suffering a torn ACL this weekend, usual number one Víctor Valdés is gone. He’s done for the year, and having declared his intention to leave the club at the end of the season, he may have also played his last minute with Barcelona. This isn’t a case of Barça choosing to try somebody else.

On Tuesday, that somebody else will be 38-year-old José Manuel Pinto, a volatile Copa del Rey specialist who has played only 27 Liga games since joining Barcelona seven years ago. On Tuesday, he will make his seventh Champions League appearance for the Blaugrana, one that will undoubtedly become his most important contribution on the European stage. To date, the only lasting memory he’s crafted in Champions League was being red carded as a reserve against Real Madrid in 2011.

To be certain, he is not the Diego López to Valdés’s Casillas. This is a bigger step down, one which may become more apparent if Costa plays. Sure to seek contact (if not outright entice fouls), the Atlético sniper would tempt the more unpredictable side of the former Celta number one. On Tuesday, Pinto may be spared such temptations.

Beyond Costa’s antics, it will be up to Barça’s possession game to limit Pinto’s exposure. Against an opponent the three-time champions have failed to distinguish themselves from this season, the loss of Valdés could prove particularly important.

Ronaldo after Champions League win: “Our team showed more experience”

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid takes off his shirt in celebration after scoring the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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The world was treated to the rare sight of a shirtless Cristiano Ronaldo as he celebrated the clinching penalty in a win over Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final in Milan on Saturday.

Jokes aside, one of the greatest players of his generation did get a moment to remember despite having a rather forgettable 120 minutes beforehand. Ronaldo buried the final penalty to give Real a 5-4 win in kicks after a 1-1 score line post-regulation.

[ MORE: Match recap | Bale reacts to second title ]

He almost sounded apologetic after the match, one that saw Real struggle to assert itself after a strong 45 minutes.

From the BBC:

“The penalties are always a lottery, you never know what will happen but our team showed more experience and we showed it by scoring all the penalties. A fantastic night for us.

“It is the end of the season and people are not fit, we have to rest and we have to go for the Euros.”

Thrilling.

Then again, when you’re a superstar and have a trio of UCL crowns, you can feel however you like. Ronaldo’s never been a man for John Wooden-style quotes — heck, we’d even take David Beckham’s personality from him — but he’s won it all thrice.

And to be fair, the other two were better games (and performances from him). Ronaldo scored for Manchester United against Chelsea and capped off the scoring in the 2014 Real win over Atleti.

Gareth Bale after winning second UCL title with Real: “We deserve it”

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid in action  during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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It took 120 minutes and penalty kicks, but Real Madrid outlasted Atletico Madrid for the second time in three seasons to win its 11th UEFA Champions League final on Saturday in Milan.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Welsh star Gareth Bale made his spot kick before Cristiano Ronaldo took advantage of Juanfran hitting the post on his attempt, and Real won 1-1 (5-4) on the night.

Bale was thrilled.

From the Fox Sports broadcast:

“What an amazing feeling. In extra time a lot of people became cramped but we showed resilience, what we’re made of and we won the 11th.

“They gave it a great game. We feel a little bit sorry for them but you have to win a final.”

Afterwards, Bale said Wales would try to win the Euro 2016 because, “Why not?”

Why not, Gareth? Why not?

Ronaldo scores clincher as Real Madrid wins the UEFA Champions League in penalty kicks

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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  • Real snares 11th European Cup
  • Second in three years
  • Ramos nabs controversial early goal

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the match-clinching penalty kick after 120 minutes couldn’t separate Real and Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday in Milan.

Sergio Ramos scored an early goal before Yannick Carrasco equalized late, and it took penalty kicks to separate Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Antoine Griezmann missed a penalty kick early in the second half, and Juanfran was the only player to miss in kicks.

Here’s how kicks played out:

Real Madrid — Lucas Vasquez scores
Atletico Madrid — Griezmann scores
RM — Marcelo scores
AM — Gabi scores
RM — Gareth Bale scores
AM — Saul scores
RM — Ramos scores
AM — Juanfran hits the post
RM — Ronaldo scores

[ WATCH: Griezmann misses PK | Carrasco equalizes, makes out ]

Chippy was the name of the game early, and Atleti clearly wanted to do whatever it took to perturb and even wound Real.

Jan Oblak made a fantastic instinctive save on a sixth minute free kick from Gareth Bale that Casemiro redirected on frame.

Real’s Dani Carvajal picked up an 11th minute yellow card for a late slide tackle on Antoine Griezmann.

The opener came in the 15th minute, as Gareth Bale flicked Toni Kroos’ header onto the doorstep and Ramos ever-so-slightly redirected the chance across the line. He may have also been offside, but the goal counts.

[ MORE: Tottenham to play CL matches at Wembley next season ]

The 33rd minute found Griezmann trying his luck on goal, as Keylor Navas caught the ball for his first real save of the day. Griezmann was firing at will, though the majority of his chances were off frame.

It stayed 1-0 into the break, but changed soon afterwards.

Combustible defender Pepe stamped on Fernando Torres’ ankle in the box, but Griezmann cranked the ensuing penalty attempt off the cross bar.

[ MORE: Lewandowski headed to Real? ]

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Savic just missed being the toe to Diego Godin and Griezmann’s tic-tac when his left-footed tap went wide of the frame in the 55th minute.

Saul knifed a shot wide from the center of the box with a fantastic athletic shot, as Atleti kept control of the play but not the scoreboard.

Real countered with a rare chance in the 70th minute, but Oblak stopped an onrushing Benzema point blank to keep the deficit 1-0.

Cristiano Ronaldo was fairly anonymous for most of the match, and saw Oblak stop his first real shot in the 78th minute. Gareth Bale then tried a cheeky finish that failed when perhaps an easy shot would’ve done the trick. Would it haunt them?

Sure enough, Atleti dialed up an equalized moments later when Carrasco slid onto the end of Juanfran’s cross to make it 1-1 in the 80th.

[ MORE: Latest on Messi injury ]

We headed to extra time, where an advantage was distinctly in Atletico Madrid’s hands. Diego Simeone had used just one substitution to Real’s three, as Zinedine Zidane exhausted his options in trying to close out his rivals.

The first 15 minutes saw Atleti have some success working down the right side, but Real had the better of the dangerous chances aside from Griezmann flashing an overhead kick high off a corner, the last act of the frame.

The second segment was just as Real-framed, and several chances fell to a trigger shy Lucas. Aside from more silliness from Pepe, the only conclusion was penalty kicks.

WATCH: Carrasco levels Champions League final, finds partner for long kiss

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Yannick Carrasco of Atletico Madrid celebrates afte scorig the equalizing goal during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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Milan on a starry night sounds romantic. Add in a massive match-tying goal, and it was all too much for Yannick Carrasco.

The 22-year-old Belgian attacker got on the end of Juanfran‘s cross and beat Keylor Navas at the near post.

[ MORE: Griezmann’s PK miss ]

In celebration, Carrasco raced toward a pitch side suite and into the arms and lips of what we presume is his partner for a gift that must count as much as a few dozen roses (but probably smelled much worse).