Real Madrid's talent poised to decide Champions League final vs. Atletico
Atletico will win, say most neutral coaches around Europe.
Atletico deserve to win, several unbiased football players from around the globe.
Football -- that fair sport specialised in meting out justice -- owes Atletico a Champions League title, say the most experienced soccer journalists.
Atletico have defeated Barcelona and Bayern, which in itself should be enough to grant them the trophy, add many other neutrals -- including, of course, the vast majority of Barcelona and Bayern fans.
There are at least five ways in which Atletico can win, adds a knowledgeable blogger in this prestigious media outlet.
Since the 2014 Champions League final, Atletico own Real Madrid, adds an undoubtedly fact-based writer of this site.
Not convinced by the overwhelming amount of evidence? Even high-profile neutrals, such as Gerardo Martino and Gianluigi Buffon have publicly stated their preference for Atletico. "If sporting justice exists, Atletico de Madrid will win the final", declared Buffon.
To add insult to injury, one of our own writes in this same blog that this Real Madrid win would be Real Madrid's most impressive ever, as though all 10 previous titles were pieces of cake when compared to an unlikely victory over this mighty version of Atletico. Alfredo di Stefano must be turning in his grave.
No more examples seem necessary to prove the point: since it became a fact that two teams from Madrid would play the Champions League final, public opinion has heavily leaned towards Atletico. Apparently, a Real Madrid win would represent the victory of evil over good, of money over hard work and dedication, of amazing luck in the draw over the toughest sequence of opponents since Denmark in 1992. Real Madrid are incarnated by Florentino Perez, buyers of talent at the highest price, while Atletico's face is Diego Simeone, an agent of transformation that has turned an underperforming bunch of players into a team that excels in every item possibly measured.
Such a sequence of unfavourable statements towards his club, coupled with the general atmosphere in favour of Atletico, has probably prompted Gareth Bale to try to bring the footballing world back to reality: "For me, no Atletico player would feature in Real Madrid's team," he declared on Wednesday afternoon. The touch of self-assurance or perhaps even arrogance is obviously there, a sign that proves that the Welshman has finally found the Madridista inside himself. Welcome, Gareth.
And maybe he's right. While equitable players, coaches and romantics run towards Atletico's corner to declare their love for their blue-collar approach to football and their impressive ability to defend, most bookies still favour Real Madrid. The odds for the Madridistas to win (around 2.4 to 1 a few days before the match) are clearly lower than those for the Atleticos (3.2 to 1).
Unless we're discussing one of those promotions that betting houses run once in a while to get you over the fence to their -- extremely profitable -- playground, bookies rarely make mistakes in matches like this. If they give lower odds for Real Madrid to win, maybe there's a rationale behind it.
History obviously plays a part. The fact that Real Madrid have won 10 titles to Atletico's zero must count to some extent. But, back to Bale's point, there's a more relevant reason for the men in white to be considered favourites to win the final: their squad.
For the first time this season, manager Zinedine Zidane has been able to field his preferred starting XI for four consecutive weeks, with Raphael Varane the only major injury in the last month.
Surprising as it sounds, differing line-ups -- of course, with extremely talented substitutes -- have been able to take the team to this late stage of the year. For instance, Bale has not played a single minute against Atletico this season. On the other hand, Isco, Varane and a combination of Danilo and Alvaro Arbeloa have played more than 300 minutes in the two La Liga matches between Real Madrid and their Rojiblanco neighbours. At this point, these players have become second or third-string choices for Zidane.
One does not need to be a Real Madrid fanatic to think that, not only have the starters have found health at the right time of the season, but also that Zidane's line-up has clicked when it matters most. One would dare to say that Atletico have not faced a Real Madrid this well-organised, this disciplined and this dangerous in front of the opposition's goal in the last couple of seasons.
Of course, a Champions League final depends on details, and this Atletico excels at taking care of every single issue that might work on their favour. But finals also rest heavily on talent and experience, and in this regard Zidane can look at his starting XI and, at least, feel confident that perhaps football won't be as fair as everyone else expects on Saturday evening.
Eduardo Alvarez covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @alvarez.