Miller: Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid could be classic


What a week it was in the Champions League.

For the second year in a row, and the third time since 2008, the Champions League Final will be contested by teams from the same league. What makes the 2014 final extra special, it will mark the first time in the history of the tournament that both teams will come from the same city.

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will meet Saturday, May 24, in Lisbon Portugal, to determine if Atletico can bring home its first title, after losing in the old European Cup Final in 1974, or whether Real can win La Decima, or 10th, title in its storied history.

Real Madrid is making its first appearance in the final since 2002, which in itself is amazing if one looks at the amount of money spent and the talent that has come through the Santiago Bernebau over the last 12 years. Real was making its fourth straight trip to the semifinals, after losing the previous three years under coach Jose Mourinho, who of course has since moved on to Chelsea. After a 1-0 home win over Bayern Munich in the first leg, Real Madrid had to travel to Munich for the second leg.

The tie looked well poised, until captain Sergio Ramos popped up from the back to score two headers three minutes apart to blow the match open.

With a 2-0 lead for the game, and 3-0 on aggregate, after just 20 minutes of play, the two-legged affair was quickly slipping away from defending champion Munich. Real Madrid could truly sit back and play on the counter attack, which was the plan for both matches, and worked to perfection by Carlo Ancelotti’s men. All hope for a comeback was extinguished before halftime when Gareth Bale started the counter on the edge of his defensive box, and used his blazing speed to get in on goal, before squaring to Cristiano Ronaldo, who put it, and Munich, away with his record-breaking 15th goal of the campaign. By the time Ronaldo scored his second of the match, and 16th of the Champions League season, in the 90th minute, Real Madrid had well and truly demolished the defending champions, 4-0, and 5-0 on aggregate.

Real Madrid’s devastating 4-3-3 formation, with the world’s best player Ronaldo, Bale, and Karim Benzema up top, and Angel DiMaria, Xabi Alonso, and Luka Modric in the midfield, has run riot this season. Bale, signed from Tottenham in the summer, has given the team a devastating attack, and Real Madrid looked destined to finally make a final for the last 6 months.

Atletico Madrid will compete for its third cup final since 2010, after winning the Europa League in the 2010 and 2012 seasons. It will play in the Champions League final this year, after an impressive 3-1 win over Chelsea Wednesday at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea actually took the lead in the game, and the tie, going up 1-0 in both after former Atletico forward Fernando Torres scored in the 32nd minute. The Blues could not hold out until halftime though, with Atletico tying the match right before the whistle when Eden Hazard failed to track his man, allowing him to get in at the back cross and square a ball to Adrian, who calmly put the ball in the back of the net. Mourinho changed his formation from the “parking the bus,” throwing on striker Samuel Eto’o in the second half. This move backfired when Eto’o fouled Diego Costa in the box, with Costa scoring from the ensuing penalty, to make it 2-1 Atletico. When Arda Turan scored in the 72nd minute to put Atletico up 3-1, it was all but assured that there would be and all-Madrid final.

Diego Simeone has his Atletico team at the top of the La Liga standings with three matches to go, as well as the European final. He has taken a good side and made it great this year, and Atletico have four matches left this year which will determine if it can finish the jobs off and win silverware, breaking the hold of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Atletico will play those two teams in a seven-day period, with the opportunity in its own hands to wrestle a trophy or two away from the big two, and in the process cement itself as the new power in La Liga, and European, football.

The Champions League final has the makings of a classic, much like the match last season between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Atletico and Real Madrid will play for the fifth time this season, with Real holding a 2-1-1 advantage. Who will win?

You will have to check back in a few weeks for that prediction.

• While Madrid is unquestionably the European capital of football for the 2013-2014, the local area capital of football is also not in question.

Dacey’s Pub in Morrisville will host two of the biggest football parties over the next few months. Saturday, May 24, for this classic Champions League Final, Dacey’s will have a screening of the match, which will include jersey giveaways, food, and fanfare. If you are around on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and want to come out and watch the match with myself and many of the area’s fans of the game, please stop by and join in the festivities.

Dacey’s will also host a World Cup final party on Sunday, July 13, starting at 3 p.m. That seems like a long time away, but the tournament starts in about 6 weeks, and it is never too early to get your plans in for the party that is the World Cup final.

Dacey has been a huge friend to the game, and is the preeminent place to watch matches in the area. So come out and join the fun in three weeks for the Real Madrid Atletico Madrid final.

• La Liga has three of the four spots in the two European finals this season. Sevilla joins the other two, after it scored in the 94th minute of its match, to stun fellow Spanish side Valencia, going through to the Europa Cup Final on away goals. Valencia was literally seconds away from the final when Stéphane M’Bia headed in a flick-on from a throw in to send the visiting fans, and the Sevilla bench, into hysterics. The final will see Sevilla play Benfica, who ousted Juventus, on May 14th at 2:45 p.m. from Turin, Italy. Sevilla, which won this tournament in 2006 and 2007 when known as the UEFA Cup, will look to add another trophy to the impressive season for La Liga.

Can anyone stop Bayern Munich?


Since it succumbed to its own marketability and organized group stages and seedings, all but guaranteeing the continent’s financial heavyweights safe passage to its latter stages, UEFA’s Champions League has yet to be retained.

In the days of its unseeded, simple home and away ties, prior to the advent of 6-match groups, replete with theme music, fireworks, Amstel and a host of other sponsors, the Champions League trophy had proven a lot easier to hold onto. In the years 1971-1980 only 4 teams held the title, all of them having retained it at least once (twice in the cases of Ajax Amsterdam and Bayern Munich). Conventional wisdom tells us that it was a competition far easier to win and retain in those years; only the champions of each league would be entered, for instance, while two of the more favoured teams could draw each other in the early rounds, opening the door for easier passage – given reasonably fortunate draws – into the latter rounds of the competition. Yet there were no second chances, as the group stages of the current version certainly allow for. Of the 16 teams competing this week and next as the tournament enters its knockout phase, only Manchester United and the two Madrid sides are yet to lose a match – though such a statistic does take on a cloak of redundancy as the two legged home and away affairs commence. Plainly, the group stage matches are instantly forgettable. Only now does the competition truly inspire.

Arsenal v Bayern Munich

This year’s defending champions are the formidable Bayern side who swept all before them last year on their way to a domestic and continental treble previously unprecedented in German football. Since Pep Guardiola replaced Juup Heynckes as head coach there has been little stalling of their momentum; 46 Bundesliga matches without defeat by last count. It seems a very long time indeed since Bayern were humbled 4-0 by a Messi-inspired Barcelona in 2009. Or since the preceding seven year spell without the Bavarians making a semi-final appearance. Finalists in three of the last four seasons, Bayern are the current kings of The Champions League. That they lost to Manchester City in their final group match spoils any idea of an entirely perfect season – that they did so having won all five of their previous matches, already assured of top spot in the group, perhaps goes some way to temper any ideas of a chink in the armour.

Nonetheless, such a result must hearten their forthcoming opponents Arsenal, as they contemplate the mammoth task of dealing with Müller, Götze and co over two matches. Arsenal did defeat Bayern 2-0 in the knockout stages last year, albeit in futile fashion having lost the home leg 3-1, but will take heart from that and also from their earlier victory in Germany this campaign against last year’s tournament runners up, Borussia Dortmund. Arsenal have certainly improved in the last 12 months – they remain in the battle for 3 trophies – yet so too have Bayern. The acquisitions last summer of Mario Götze and Barcelona’s Thiago – quite why the Spanish giants allowed him to leave must be explainable by someone – have strengthened them far more than the losses of Mario Gómez and Luiz Gustavo may have weakened them. Thiago in particular seems capable of dictating play in a midfield bursting with playmakers. That the idea of Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Martinez and Lahm (who he has now converted in his own image) felt somehow insufficient to Guardiola speaks volumes of his embarrassment of riches. In all probability he knew from working with the Spanish/Brazilian what a talent he was, and snapped him up for the conventional ‘bargain’ price of 25 million euros. That Mario Götze has adopted a makeshift central striker role – as they await the further signing of Robert Lewandowski – rather says it all about the quality of what must be the world’s greatest array of midfield talent in any one squad. Were Arsenal to pip a wasteful Bayern side over two legs it would be heralded as one of Arsène Wenger’s great achievements. And in fairness to the London club’s stellar season thus far, it would not be among the biggest shocks of European football history. Yet watching Arsenal’s capitulation 8 days ago at Anfield, with the memory of a similar capitulation to Manchester City some weeks ago still fresh, leaves the keen eye of many a serious spectator to suggest that in all likelihood Bayern’s more serious challenges will come later in the tournament.

Manchester City v Barcelona

But from where? Many would point to the eventual winners of Tuesday’s arguable tie-of-the-round, which sees Manchester City face Barcelona, as a potential challenge; in each case with interesting merit. Gerardo Martino’s charges, in particular, are an interesting study in the current season. Much maligned after their changing-of-the-guard mauling at the hands of Heynckes’ Bayern, serious questions have been asked of them for perhaps the first time in a number of seasons. Whereas defeats to Chelsea and Inter in previous semifinals were often met with hyperbolic cries of ‘crimes against football’ by their supporters, the extent to which Bayern were superior over two legs last April was not in any way flattered by the 7-0 aggregate score line. Perplexingly, rather than sign the central defender the entire football world seems to deem necessary, Barcelona spent the summer – and substantial, as yet unconfirmed amounts – acquiring the prodigious attacking skills of Neymar.

In the face of some uninspired performances this campaign, Martino’s argument has been that the side, unlike in previous years, were pacing themselves. Time will tell. But certainly if this past Sunday’s performance is any gauge he may just be onto something. Messi, Iniesta, and in particularly Cesc Fàbregas tormented Rayo Vallecano throughout the 90 minutes, culminating in a 6-0 scoreline which could have been a dozen and beyond. The tempo was there, the quick passing and movement, Iniesta’s ‘happy feet’. It was the Barcelona of a few seasons ago, the Barcelona of Pep; yet it was only Rayo. A far better gauge will come Tuesday night at the Etihad Stadium Manchester.

Having spent a couple of seasons finding their feet, City are beginning to look more comfortable in the continent’s elite. The 3-2 victory in Munich (for all Bayern’s prior qualification) represents the single defeat inflicted on the German side in some 11 months. Manuel Pellegrini’s City have inflicted 4, 5 and 6 goal beatings on top English sides this season, and have certainly added to a squad which seemed ill-equipped mentally – if not in terms of ability – for success at this level 12 months ago. The idea that they can ‘get at’ Barcelona’s defence in a similar fashion to Bayern is not a hard one to envisage. Yet one should not be quick to assume they will be able to assert such superiority over their opponents in the upcoming double header. While Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham have been simply blown away at the Etihad Stadium this season, Barcelona are something else entirely. A vibrant City, in full flow and – perhaps crucially, with Sergio Agüero (who will miss Tuesday’s tie) could arguably prove too much for anyone. But one suspects a resurgent Barcelona may have a little too much for them. At the very least, too much of the ball for them. Both United and Tottenham were unable to retain possession of the ball against City. Arsenal are forever prone to such defensive self-destruction as they illustrated against Negredo and co in December. One finds it hard not to contend that Martino’s side will be better equipped and more talented than any previous sides City have played host to this season.

Though this is a tie which will split opinion greatly, perhaps further emphasizing the idea that the greatest days of the competition are always its two-legged affairs, the good and bad of the group stage always forgotten, the mind of this observer steers towards Barcelona acquiring what they will deem a ‘manageable’ score to take back to Spain, progressing in a couple of weeks. Understated and distant second favourites they may be this year, the impression is clear that it is the holy grail of Champions League success the Catalans crave most this season. Whether they can contend with Bayern – or with one or two others – will be interesting to discover, but in Messi, along with Madrid’s Ronaldo, they have one the competition’s outstanding match winners. City’s day of Champions league glory will surely arrive. But one suspects their involvement this year will not reach much further than March.

AC Milan v Atlético Madrid

This week’s other two ties seem rather more open and shut. While Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid give the appearance of tiring under the strain of prolonging a tilt at pipping their city rivals and Barcelona for the La Liga title, they should have far too much for this season’s AC Milan side, currently a sorry bunch who represent the illustrious Champions League history of that club in only the colour of their jerseys. Those who remember the 2004 side of Kaka, Shevchenko and Maldini, or can go a decade further back to recall Donadoni, Savićević and Massaro, might want to switch the channels during this one. Diego Costa may be finding himself increasingly-tightly marked and deprived of space in Spain but one wonders quite how Rami, Zaccardo and co will manage to deal with him come Wednesday evening. Mario Balotelli’s wonder strike last Friday night to seal a 1-0 win over Bologna did little to paper over the cracks of what in truth was an insipid display.

Bayer Leverkusen v Paris Saint-Germain

It is perhaps a sad fact that more often than not progression to the upper echelons of European football no longer calls for the development of exceptional young talent as it did in the days when Celtic, Steaua Bucharest and Ajax were competing for the awards, but now hinges on the wooing of an owner prepared to part with exorbitant sums of money in order to acquire such ready-made talents as Zlatan Ibrahimović, Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva. Borussia Dortmund of course provide the current exception to such a claim but one suspects that the Mario Götzes and İlkay Gündoğans of the world may be contenders for Champions League silverware long after the Dortmund fans have had the chance to take such success for granted.

Nonetheless, the emergence (or re-emergence) of Paris St Germain as a footballing powerhouse has brought excitement, increased competition, and another league into the business end of European club competition. Whereas only a few small years ago it seemed the English and Spanish sides would combine to dominate for the foreseeable future, this year’s semifinalists could conceivably yet comprise four nations, harking back to the old, almost forgotten days of the ‘European Cup.’ That may perhaps be too romantic a notion, but PSG are genuine contenders for the title this year. One can’t help but feeling that, had they edged their way past Barcelona a year ago – as they so nearly did – they may have been far better equipped to deal with what lay in store for them in Munich. Five points clear atop France’s Ligue One, with a wealth of attacking options and an experienced defence, the French Champions should not be overlooked among the favourites this year, and should make light work of a Bayer Leverkusen side who started the season in good form but have stalled lately, and on Saturday struggled to defeat against an improving but less than spectacular Schalke side. Certainly less than PSG who, if the draw is as kind in the next round as it was for this one, may be surprise contenders to bar Bayern’s path to another unprecedented record of back to back Champions League wins.

Football predictions are always fraught with danger, but pushed to call the matches – in the spirit of any serious fan – this observer expects comfortable aggregate wins for Atlético and PSG, Bayern to have far too much for Arsenal to contend with, and Barcelona to prevail through a serious two-legged test against Manchester City. Whether any of the other three can seriously challenge the current champions however, will perhaps be illustrated best by what inroads – if any – Arsène Wenger’s charges can make into the Bavarian’s midfield dominance.

Why They Hate Each Other – Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid


Real Madrid was founded in 1902 with Atlético Madrid founded by three Basque students in 1903. Initially Real supporters came from the middle class in the north of the city, while the Atlético supporters were drawn from the working class in the south. The Bernabeu is located alongside banks and businesses, while the Calderon can be found beside a brewery, further outlining the difference in the traditional supporter base, though these lines are largely blurred today.

Real Madrid have long been seen as the establishment club as they were the puppets of General Franco (Spanish dictator from 1936 – 1975), led by hard-line conservative Santiago Bernabéu (whose name the Real stadium now takes), and aided by the government and fearful referees. Although during the early Franco years it was Atlético that was the preferred team of the regime, being associated with the military air force, the regime’s preferences moved towards Real Madrid in the 1950s. It is widely alleged that Franco’s regime subsequently intervened to ensure success for Real Madrid for political and propaganda purposes, although this is denied by Real Madrid supporters.

Real’s close affiliation to the Spanish government remains to this day, made only to evident when their training facilities were sold to the government for €480m, only to be sold back to Real for €1, a deal which has subsequently been investigated by the EU. Real Madrid is also closely aligned with Spanish newspaper Marca, giving them a media outlet to promote their interests. All of this serves to re-enforce the many political undertones associated with El Derbi Madrileño including right wing versus left wing, the sanitized north versus the ‘real’ city of the south, the favored versus the persecuted and the media darlings versus the unfashionable battlers.