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Preview: Atlético, Real bring Madrid derby to Champions League final in Lisbon

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Welcome, friends, to the 265th edition of the Madrid Derby. Only this time, it’s being played out in Lisbon, Portugal, where Atlético Madrid meet Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

This final boasts a wealth of storylines. There’s the über-rich vs. the “scrappy startups”, which rather falls apart when you realize Atléti’ have won La Liga and the Copa del Rey ten times, have hoisted the European Cup Winners’ Cup, and, most recently, won the Europa League, in both 2010 and 2012. Real, however, certainly are rich, as demonstrated most recently when spending over 100m on Gareth Bale.

Then we’ve got the recent injuries that have struck both sides. Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 31 goals in La Liga and 16 in the Champions League, hasn’t played since May 7th, when he took himself off in what was ultimately a draw with Valladolid. Most believe the superstar will start – which is more than can be said for Atlético’s top scorer. Diego Costa, with 8 UCL goals and 27 in the league, started last week’s title decider against Barcelona. However, he pulled up after just 15 minutes with a hamstring tear. His outlook, however, might not be as bleak as previously thought.

Plus, this final boasts of a fantastic duel of the nicknames: it’s Real’s Los Merengues (The Meringues) taking on Atléti’s Los Colchoneros (The Mattress-Makers). I think we know who wins this one.

Kickoff in Lisbon is on Saturday, May 24 at 2:45 p.m. ET. You won’t want to miss this one.

How they got here

Real: Their second-place finish in Spain assured Real direct entry into the group stage. Los Blancos easily topped their group, losing points only to Juventus, and moved on to face Schalke. Real made the German side cry (most likely literally) with a 9-2 aggregate win. Last year’s runners’ up proved tougher, but Los Merengues beat Borussia Dormund 3-2…only to find themselves up against last year’s winners, Bayern Munich. It was a tough first leg but Real destroyed the German side in the second, ultimately winning 5-0 on aggregate.

Atléti: After finishing third in La Liga last season, Atléti went directly into the group stages, where they won five and picked up sixteen points total. Los Colchoneros had no trouble seeing off AC Milan in the Round of 16, beating the Italian side 5-1 on aggregate. Next up came fellow La Liga opponents Barcelona, but Atlético were able to hold them to just one goal to move on to the semi-finals. There they encountered Chelsea, whose double-parked bus kept Atlético out in the first leg, but broke down in the second. Undefeated throughout the tournament, Atléti are hoping to become the first side since 2008 to lift the trophy without a loss.

What to watch for

The battle between Real’s potent attack and Atlético’s clinical defending. The latter have one of the best defenses in all of Europe, evidenced not just by their conceding only 26 goals in their 38 La Liga matches, but by the fact that only six goals were scored against them during the Champions League tournament. They’re tough, they’re physical, they’re very near relentless.

But Los Merengues are one of the few sides that have taken Atléti to task this season. However, they did it in the Copa del Rey semi-finals, winning 5-0 over two legs, while Atlético won once in the league, and the two sides played out a 2-2 draw in their last meeting. Real have one of the best offenses in the world, particularly if both Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are fit to start alongside Bale. Ángel di María, who notched the most assists in La Liga this season, and Luka Modrić, one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world, will also be on hand to ensure their forwards have plenty of scoring opportunities.

If they can unlock Atléti’s well-executed plans, that is.

Projected Lineups

Real Madrid (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Dani Carvajal, Raphaël Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Luka Modrić, Asier Illarramendi, Ángel di María; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo

Atlético Madrid (4-2-3-1):  Thibaut Courtois; Juanfran, Diego Godín, Miranda, Filipe Luís; Gabi, Tiago Mendes; Arda Turan, Raúl Garcia, Koke; David Villa

Prediction

Real Madrid to finally clinch La Décima. Los Merengues have been chasing their 10th European Cup since 2002. This will finally be the year that all their hard work (and hard spending) pays off.

Cristiano Ronaldo saves Los Blancos as eye-popping Madrid derby ends all square

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Sometimes the best defense is a ton of offense.

In a match with plenty of excitement and a barrel full of heroes, Cristiano Ronaldo provided the final goal eight minutes before full-time to erase a home lead and give Real Madrid a share of the spoils.

Having missed a header he buries 99% of the time, the Ballon d’Or winner atoned by collecting a ball Gareth Bale couldn’t control and rifling past Thibaut Courtois for the leveler.

The end-to-end match featured 26 total shots, a number of which were sights to behold.

Karim Benzema put Real Madrid ahead after just three minutes, but Koke drew back level midway through the first half before a ridiculous strike by Gabi Fernandez from about 40 yards out gave the hosts the lead just before halftime.

It is a disappointing slip for Atletico Madrid, who would have gone above Barcelona and level with Real Madrid on points for the La Liga lead had they held onto the lead.  They do jump Barcelona, but just by the one point with the Catalans still to play this weekend.

End-to-end the entire time, it was almost too exciting of a match for some, as Atletico Madrid coach German Burgos was sent off in the second half for nearly eating the referee (or trying to, at least).

There were plenty of spectacular saves on both ends as well, with Courtois and Diego Lopez adding their name to the list of fireworks.

Atletico manager Diego Simeone received some criticism following the match, as he seemed to wait too long to use any substitutes as his lone change came in the 83rd minute after Ronaldo’s goal. His counterpart Carlo Ancelotti made all three of his substitutions before the 73rd minute to give his side the fresher legs.

Atlético Madrid make a statement before Champions League matchup against Milan

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On Friday night, Mario Balotelli scored an absolutely fantastic goal to ensure AC Milan grabbed a late winner against Bologna. The rossoneri are currently tenth in the Serie A table after a less than spectacular first half of the season, but – aside from a rather limp loss against Napoli last weekend – are starting to come to life under new coach Clarence Seedorf. It looks like they just might be able to put up a fight against Atlético Madrid in their upcoming midweek Champions League game.

In fact, it looked like it might be all too easy for Milan to advance to the next round. After all, Atleti had just lost 5-0 over two legs of their Copa del Rey semifinal, falling to city rivals Real Madrid. In between, they fell 2-0 to Almeria, who’ve been struggling in La Liga. Were Atlético, who’d been fighting for first for much of the season, finally set to slide?

Well, don’t count out Diego Simeone’s men just yet. On Saturday afternoon, they dismantled Real Valladolid. Raúl García opened the scoring after just three minutes, off a free kick from Gabi. Just a minute later and Diego Costa had one in the back of the net, García helping out with the long ball up the pitch. Diego Godín added a third deep in the second half, heading on a corner from Diego Ribas.

Sure, it may be just a solid win over a team struggling to avoid relegation. But for Atelti, who temporarily take top with those three points, it just might mean an infusion of confidence, a boost that allows them to go to Milan and emerge with an impressive win.