Adversaries as players – for Lazio and Juventus then Atletico and Real Madrid – and now as coaches, here’s how Diego Simeone and Zinedine Zidane’s gameplans progressed during Sunday’s final at the San Siro…
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Zidane’s Madrid XI was widely expected with Cristiano Ronaldo unsurprisingly ruled fit and Casemiro as the midfield shield giving Luka Modric and Toni Kroos greater freedom.
Simeone sprung a slight surprise by selecting centre-back Stefan Savic (below) ahead of impressive Uruguay youngster Jose Maria Gimenez.
Savic impressed in the semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich, when Diego Godin was injured, but made way for the veteran in the second leg.
However, despite Savic starting 14 games this season to Gimenez’s 34 – and the 21-year-old barely putting a foot wrong – the Montenegrin started.
Atletico’s attempts at pressing their opponents early were largely subdued by Madrid, who were quick and efficient in possession and didn’t allow themselves to become riled by any extra physical attention by Los Rojiblancos.
Modric and Kroos constantly switched the play, moving the Atletico midfield around and not allowing them to settle into a set pattern or rhythm.
Sergio Ramos’ goal appeared marginally offside but Savic was the wrong side of the Spaniard and made to pay.
Gareth Bale’s role was interesting as he started on the right touchline and then gradually as the half wore on drifted inside, leaving Filipe Luis unsure if he should track the Welshman or stick to his defensive area. Consequently, Real found space down the right flank.
What was telling in the first period, was just how wasteful Atleti were in possession; misplacing 45 passes in total with 81 per-cent pass accuracy. A strange statistic for a team usually so disciplined and diligent in possession.
Clearly Simeone had some serious words at half-time as there was a greater purpose and energy to Atletico’s play, summed up by the half-time introduction of Yannick Carrasco for holding midfielder Augusto Fernandez; from the passes into feet to the runs off the ball. It was that rapid movement which drew the penalty from which Griezmann subsequently missed.
Madrid, however, remained comfortable. Casemiro (below) doing an admirable job in breaking up possession and their pace out wide a constant reminder to Atletico they couldn’t commit too many forward in chase of an equaliser.
Zidane’s three substitutions – Carvajal admittedly forced – however slightly disrupted their structure and after Ronaldo and Bale both spurned chances, Madrid’s commitment to defending deep proved their undoing as the defence retreated too close to Navas, allowing Juanfran to dart behind and his cross was finished by Carrasco.
With Toni Kroos off the field, Madrid were unable to establish enough control in the match and Atletico started to dominate for the first time, finding some control and tempo. Carrasco’s pace stretching the play while Gabi and Koke, moved into a move central role, were neat and tidy.
Juanfran’s workrate took him beyond the defensively-suspect Marcelo on a number of times and had the Spain international not run out of steam, it could have been a real area of danger for Zidane’s side.
Los Blancos appeared content to rely on the pace of Ronaldo and Bale on the counter but neither was able to find space nor an opportunity.