Champions League final

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Fernando Torres, back from the depths, can become a Champions League leader

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His days in England are well past him. From Liverpool superstar to Chelsea flop, the unconventional route the 32-year-old’s career has taken has all led to this.

Yes, Fernando Torres has a Champions League winners’ medal, but it did not come in the fashion many believed he was destined for when he peaked at Anfield. A shell of his former self at Stamford Bridge, he was second-fiddle to fan-favorite Didier Drogba during the 2011/12 run Chelsea made through the competition. Ridiculed by plenty all across England for his YouTube-worthy misses and sleepy performances, Torres was run out of Stamford Bridge with just his medal to accompany him.

“This is the most important game of my life,” Torres emphatically claimed Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday’s final against Real Madrid in Milan. “A chance to write a page that has never been written in 113 years of Atlético’s history. I have the chance to make my dream come true, a dream I had as a kid, to win this cup with this club”.

Torres does not speak as if this is his team, because it is not his team. Despite his dominance at Liverpool, Torres will never be a standout player on a Champions League final caliber squad. Those days are well in the past. Now, Torres knows his place in the squad, an important cog in an engine with no one part more valuable than the other. Such is the way of Diego Simeone.

“I knew I was risking everything by coming back here to Atletico Madrid,” Torres said. “A lot of people thought it couldn’t get better for me here, but I knew the group I was coming into. I knew this group was destined for something big and I wanted to be part of it.”

For all the praises Simeone gets for his teams’ fitness, grit, and defensive prowess, bringing Torres back from the depths of obscurity might be one of his most underrated achievements. The ridicule Torres was forced to endure towards the end of his time in England can break a person. But Torres somehow managed to stay afloat despite the demons lapping at his ankles, and Simeone pulled him ashore. Now, reborn, Torres has finally shown flashes of his former self that only Anfield remembers. Across April and May, Torres bagged six goals and two assists in eight appearances – all starts – to close out the La Liga season. The Spaniard also fed the ball that sprung Antoine Griezmann free for the goal that won the semifinal against Bayern Munich.

No longer a star but still a valuable piece of the puzzle, Torres is right where he belongs. While his time with Chelsea brought him that medal so many legends in the game fail to achieve, he knows now is where his legacy will truly be judged. “The past can only help you get better,” Torres said. “We only think about Milan, which is the present.”

The key word being “we.” For his entire club career, the narrative surrounding Torres had always been about himself, from superstardom at Liverpool to the abuse he suffered after. Now with a “we” to fall back on, it’s time for Torres to play the most important game of his life.

Follow Live: Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus

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The day has come for Barcelona and Juventus to lace up and duke it out for the most coveted yearly trophy in world soccer.

The famed Barcelona attack and the staunch Juventus defense will do battle from the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany as one club looks to go home with a historic title in one way or another, with kickoff set for 2:45pm ET.

For the Spaniards, Lionel Messi and his three-pronged attack are looking to cap off a dominant season with a treble that includes the La Liga and Copa del Rey titles. The Italians will hope to become the first Serie A club to win the Champions League since Inter took home the title in 2010, and can win a treble of their own.

FOLLOW LIVE: Barcelona vs Juventus in the Champions League final

That famous attack does indeed start for Barcelona, as Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez will hope to break down the Juventus defense that has conceded just seven goals in 12 Champions League matches this campaign. They’ll be supported by Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic in midfield, with no surprises in the back line from Luis Enrique.

For Juventus, news broke earlier this week that defender Giorgio Chiellini would miss the final after sustaining a muscle injury in training a few days ago. He is replaced by 34-year-old Andrea Barzagli, who has appeared in each of the club’s last five Champions League games, but four of those came off the bench. The ever-present Andrea Pirlo is in the midfield alongside 22-year-old Paul Pogba to support Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata up front, with Arturo Vidal providing the link.

LINEUPS

Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Subs: Bravo, Xavi, Pedro, Rafinha, Bartra, Adriano, Mathieu.

Juventus: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Barzagli, Evra; Pirlo, Marchisio, Pogba; Vidal; Tevez, Morata.
Subs: Storari, Ogbonna, Padoin, Sturaro, Pereyra, Coman, Llorente.

Diego Simeone like a god to Atlético Madrid players

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If Real Madrid’s pursuit of la decima is the storyline for los merengues, than certainly the narrative for Atlético Madrid must be the rise of coach Diego Simeone.

Last weekend, a 1-1 draw with Barcelona secured the La Liga title for Atléti. It’s their first domestic championship since 1995-1996, and the first time a club other than Real or Barcelona have won since Valencia claimed the title in 2003-2004.

Much credit must be given to Simeone. Cholo, a former Atléti player, spent five years managing in Argentina before joining the club in 2011. Since then, he’s secured the Europa League trophy, the Supercopa, the Copa del Rey and now the La Liga title. Impressive, considering he’s had just three seasons.

(READ MORE: PREVIEWING THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL)

And, of course, he’s done it all on a limited budget – unlike that megarich club across the city, who’ve spent billions in pursuit of their tenth European cup. The club spent around $53m this season to bring in 20 players, while earning around $118m – much of that from the sale of Radamel Falcao. David Villa cost around $3m. In total, Atlético spent around $7m in 2012-2013, scouting out bargains and finding talented players to bring in on loan.

Midfielder Tiago joined Atléti in January of 2010, originally on loan from Juventus. Gregorio Manzano was in charge then, and Tiago has noticed quite a change since Simeone came on board:

I think for us, for all the club, he’s like a God. He arrived to the club and changed everything. What he says comes true. If he asks him to jump from a bridge, we jump. I think he knows a lot of football. We as a group follow him, and we’re very proud to have him as a coach.

Describing a coach as god-like is about the highest praise you can give. But will Simeone live up to the hype? In just a few hours, his side take on the million-dollar stars of rivals Real. If Atlético Madrid beat them in the final, perhaps the entire squad will wind up jumping off a bridge.

(Hopefully into a big pile of fluffy feathers, though, because it’s always nice to watch a team upsetting the established order)

Ancelotti: Entire Real Madrid season spent in pursuit of Champions League final

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After a long, winding road, which for some teams began way back in July, the day has finally come. It’s the day of the Champions League final! And if you’re not excited, well, you’re probably jaded by life in general.

This year’s UEFA Champions League final has already made history: it’s the first time two teams from the same city will meet in the final game of the tournament. Today in Lisbon, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid will play out the 265th edition of El Derbi madrileño on one of the world’s biggest stages. 

(READ MORE: PREVIEWING LISBON’S MADRID DERBY)

But for one side, the stakes are even higher than usual. Real Madrid are fighting to win their 10th European Cup, a trophy they’ve been striving for since 2002, when Zinedine Zidane put in a spectacular goal to ensure los merengues triumphed over Bayer Leverkusen.

Twelve years have passed since Real Madrid made it to the final. But they arrive in Lisbon not on the back of a bout of good luck, but because reaching the final has been their goal the entire season. Carlo Ancelotti said on Friday,

We began the season thinking in this objective, to reach this final, to win ‘La Decima.’ We have achieved that. For all madridistas, tomorrow is a special day. Everyone knows the importance of this competition for Real Madrid, and my job is to do the best. I said that on first day I came here, I would do the best I could to win this competition, and we are very close.

Close, perhaps, but that tenth trophy isn’t in hand yet. And considering their opponents won La Liga this season, Real can’t be expecting that their crowning will be a mere formality.

The most memorable moments of the 2013-2014 Champions League

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On Saturday, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will face off in the first Champions League final to feature two teams from the same city. But before the excitement in Lisbon kicks off, let’s review some of the most memorable moments of the 2013-2014 UEFA Champions League tournament.

Zlatan Ibrahimović puts four past Anderlecht
Ibra’s not going to the World Cup, so the least we can do is talk up his genius here. The world was reminded of the wonder that is Zlatan on October 24, when PSG paid a visit to Anderlecht. Ibrahimović’s first was a simple tap in. Five minutes later, he followed it up with a fantastic backheel, completely confusing the Anderlecht defender attempting to take the ball off him. Next came a powerful, swerving shot to the top corner, completing his hat-trick within 18 minutes. Edinson Cavani scored a fourth for the visitors, but that only seemed to irritate Ibra, who followed up by nodding the ball to his feet, only to volley into the back of the net.

Watch. Just watch.

A heated finish in the Group of Death
Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Napoli were all drawn into the same group, along with Marseille. Going into the final game, the standings were such that it was impossible to determine who would move on to the knockout round. Napoli had the lowest chance: they needed to beat Arsenal, and hope that Marseille could salvage a point. And, up until the 85th minute, it looked like the partenopei were about to make their dreams come true. They were up 1-0, while Dortmund were even in France. Then Kevin Großkreutz scored. Napoli needed two goals to progress. They managed a second, but couldn’t find a third. With all teams finishing on 12 points, and even on head-t0-head, Dortmund’s and Arsenal’s superior goal differences sent Napoli into Europa League.

Martin Demichelis becomes a scapegoat
Manchester City just can’t catch a break in the Champions League, can they? Even on points with Bayern Munich in the group stage, they fell into the second slot, setting up a meeting with Barcelona. But this season’s Barcelona side showed certain signs of weakness, and it seemed as though City could make it through to the next round.

Then Martin Demichelis happened. The Argentine, whose signing only Manuel Pellegrini could understand, lunged in with a horrific late challenge on Lionel Messi. Out came the red card, in went Messi’s resulting strike. City went on to lose 2-0 at the Etihad, then 2-1 in Barcelona, ending their quest for the quadruple.

(READ MORE: ATLETICO, REAL TAKE THEIR DERBY TO LISBON)

Olympiakos make things interesting against Manchester United
By the time the knockout stages rolled around, United’s domestic campaign was already in tatters. They’d been knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Sunderland, out of the FA Cup by Swansea City. Last year’s title winners looked to have no hope at repeating the feat, or, in fact, even qualifying for the Champions League. Unless, of course, they won it all.

And when they got drawn against Olympiakos, the idea that United could turn things around and make a miraculous run for the Champions League trophy didn’t seem all that far-fetched. Except Manchester United were dreadful in Greece. Olympiakos won 2-0 and while United managed to come back to progress to the next round, they were easily defeated by Bayern Munich.

That goal from that man
Javier Pastore’s been eclipsed at PSG, but for a few minutes back in April, he was a hero. With 90 minutes played, the hosts were up 2-1, and Chelsea fans were feeling rather confident. After all, they’d be taking an away goal back to Stamford Bridge, and the Blues could easily overcome the goal disadvantage. Then came Pastore. Thrown on with just five minutes left, the attacker turned the Chelsea defense inside out, snaking through the blue shirts to dink in PSG’s third.

Of course, this subheading could also be applied to the second leg. Chelsea desperately needed a second goal, so José Mourinho put on…Demba Ba. He silenced his skeptics with a goal in the 87th minute, stretching out his leg to slot the ball home. The Blues were on to the next round.

Unbeaten Atlético hold fast to make the final
It’s not often a team makes it to the final without losing a match – points can be lost in the group stages, or a side can lose one leg of a knockout game, only to win decisively in the other. The last time it happened was in 2008, when Manchester United lifted the trophy in Moscow. Now, it’s Atléti’s turn to shine. The first leg of their semi-final against Chelsea finished in predictable fashion for two sides that really commit to defending: a goalless draw. But those expecting to see more of the same at Stamford Bridge were sorely disappointed (or perhaps thrilled). It was Fernando Torres that scored first, but Mourinho’s game plan fell to pieces once Adrián scored. Atlético put in two more in the second half, setting up this infamous Madrid Derby in Lisbon.

Real Madrid dismantles Bayern Munich
Many believed that los merengues could hang with Bayern Munich, but few thought they’d beat the Bavarians so decisively. Real had edged a 1-0 victory in Madrid, making the game at the Allianz anyone’s for the taking. And Sergio Ramos seized the moment. The defender had his side up 2-0 by the 20th minute, taking advantage of Bayern’s poor defending on set pieces. Then Cristiano Ronaldo scored in, bagging his own brace to give Real the 5-0 aggregate victory.

Suddenly, la decima was again within Real Madrid’s grasp. But they’ll have to get past their city rivals to grab their tenth European Cup…

The saga continues on Saturday.