When Real Madrid renews its quest for a 10th European title on May 24, it won’t do so in the type of clash of detached powers matchup we often see in UEFA Champions League finals. After their 4-0 (5-0, agg.) defeat of defending champions Bayern Munich today at the Allianz Arena, the nine-time European champions are destined to face an opponent with an clear connection to the club. Either 2011-12 champions Chelsea, managed by recently deposed Merengues boss José Mourinho, or crosstown rivals Atlético Madrid will try to keep Real Madrid from its decima.
If Chelsea prevail tomorrow at Stamford Bridge, both finalists will have a head coach that’s recently bossed the opposition, with Carlo Ancelotti having preceded over operations in London from summer 2009 through May 2011. Still, most of the attention will be on Mourinho, who left Real Madrid at the end of last season. While both men won league titles at their former clubs, Mourinho reportedly left a divided dressing room and a club full of enemies in Spain. While the potential for Carlo Ancelotti win a third Champions League will earn its share of cyber inches, the potential for Real Madrid to rise at its former boss’s expense (or, for Mourinho to get one over on Real) could get as much coverage the decima itself.
If, however, Atlético prevails on Wednesday, next month’s match at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz takes on a different type of intrigue – an inner-city Derby for the most prestigious honor in club soccer. Though it would mark the fifth time teams from the same federation made the final (and the second time the teams would be Spanish), an Atlético-Real matchup would represent the first time clubs from the same city would compete for the title. With Atleti having recently claimed a foothold in the once lopsided rivalry, the club’s first Champions League crown would leave them undisputed kings of the Spanish capital.
Regardless of Wednesday’s outcomes, the narratives are likely to boil over. It won’t be enough to marvel at the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Arda Turan, and Óscar matching up against Real’s galacticos nuevos. One potential pairing would be about a miscast savior; the other would be about a fight for civic as was as European pride. All this, and the decima looms.