Five ways Atletico Madrid can win the Champions League final
Since the heartbreaking 2014 Champions League final loss in Lisbon, Atletico and Real Madrid have met 10 times in total.
The numbers make pleasant reading for fans of Los Rojiblancos, with five wins four draws and just one defeat. Unfortunately, that defeat was in arguably the most important game the two sides have played: Last season's Champions League quarterfinal.
But those five victories do give Atleti an edge. They know how to beat Los Blancos and, more pertinently, there is no longer any kind of fear factor there. They have seen off Barcelona and Bayern Munich on their way to this year's Champions League final in Milan, however they need to get past the final hurdle and finally beat Real Madrid in a European tie.
Here is five ways they can do it:
1. Take advantage of Madrid's defensive lapses
It sounds foolish to say considering Real only shipped two goals in the entire knockout stages of the Champions League, but that does not tell the full story. They are indebted to goalkeeper Keylor Navas's performances -- not to mention woeful finishing -- for having got to where they are.
Match-winner at the Bernabeu in February, Antoine Griezmann will be fundamental to Los Colchoneros' hopes going forward. Described this week by manager Diego Simeone as "one of the best three players in the world," the French forward along with a rejuvenated Fernando Torres will need to, unlike Roma and Manchester City, take the chances -- and there will be chances -- that come his way.
2. Win the midfield battle
Zinedine Zidane has been able to play the side Rafa Benitez wanted, but was unable to field. Defensive midfielder Casemiro has become a vital cog in the Madrid machine, winning the ball back and laying it off quickly to superior passers in the form of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who in turn supply the much-vaunted BBC front three.
Simeone plays four central midfielders across the middle of the park -- Koke, Saul Niguez, Gabi and Augusto Fernandez -- and it will be down to the quartet to hassle, harangue and harry the aforementioned mercurial duo and now allow them time to settle on the ball. If they can do this, and stop the supply line going forward, then that is a huge part of Madrid's game-plan out of the window and they will have to rethink.
3. Make set pieces count -- at both ends
When Atleti won the league there was a joke in the local media that their corners should be renamed "penalty corners," so effective they were. From every ball into the box there seemed to be a goal or at least a chance created. Unfortunately, this campaign Atleti's set-pieces have not been as potent for a number of reasons.
Principally, Koke has taken over free kicking duty from Gabi and his delivery has been slightly awry -- albeit much better in recent weeks. And while they have been solid at the back, Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez have bagged just one each in La Liga (to put that into context, Godin alone bagged four in 2013-14).
Conversely, Real Madrid's set-pieces have been inch perfect. Gareth Bale has scored more headers than any other player in Europe this season, while Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Sergio Ramos -- as Atleti know all too well -- all pose huge threats from attacking set plays.
It is fundamental for Atleti to be alert to this danger, in addition to creating their own chances at the other end.
4. Be prepared to go the distance
Circumstance in 2014 dictated that Atletico arrived in Lisbon physically and mentally spent.
They had won the La Liga title just seven days before in an almighty tussle at the Camp Nou, had a big old party back in Madrid which took its toll, while their city rivals were out of the reckoning going into the final weekend.
Arda Turan limped off against the Catalans and missed out altogether, while key figures Diego Costa -- famously after less than 10 minutes -- and Filipe Luis also had to leave the field during the game. The rest of the side looked spent after about 70 and once Ramos equalized there was only one winner.
This time there have been two weeks since the last La Liga game of the season, no festivities and Simeone has a clean bill of health all round.
Plus, Atleti have the added bonus of having already held their nerve to come through a penalty shootout battle in the round of 16 against PSV, emerging 8-7 victors. If it goes the full distance, they are ready for it.
5. Solid as a rock
Finally, it would be remiss to talk of Atleti and not mention their watertight defence. The regular back five comprising Jan Oblak, Juanfran, Godin, Gimenez and Luis shipped just 18 goals in La Liga -- a joint record low -- and in 56 games this season they have kept a remarkable 35 clean sheets.
Madrid scored 110 goals in La Liga and have netted 27 en route to the final. It will be a clash of styles and philosophies, and if Simeone's side are to prevail they will need to add to their impressive defensive numbers.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.