5:00 AM UTC
Game Details
5:00 AM UTC
Game Details
 By Rob Train

Win vs. Atletico would be Real Madrid's most impressive UCL conquest

What makes a victory worthy of the name? A recent petition set up on suggests that Real Madrid's hegemony of the European Cup in its infancy shouldn't be taken seriously.

It is a facetious undertaking being played out on a platform designed to promote positive social change and a waste of everybody's time ahead of Saturday's Champions League final in Milan. The crux of the argument is that the European Cup, before it became the Champions League, simply didn't count.

A more sentient argument might have focused on the circumstances surrounding Alfredo di Stefano's transfer to Real Madrid. By all accounts the Blond Arrow was destined for Barcelona, before it was suggested he may prefer to play for Los Blancos. In any case, Di Stefano seared his legend on to the European Cup, winning the first five continental tournaments with Los Blancos.

If the petition is to be taken remotely seriously, every European Cup before 1992 should be wiped from the collective memory. Apologies, Liverpool. Adieu, Nottingham Forest. Never mind, Bayern Munich and Ajax. Thanks for coming, Milan.

Zinedine Zidane has the opportunity at the San Siro to write his own name in Real Madrid history, having already done so as a player. To do that, the Frenchman will have to mastermind victory over an Atletico Madrid side that have beaten Barcelona and Bayern Munich to reach the final, while Real scraped past Wolfsburg and Manchester City.

After 14 years of Atletico hurt, during which Real enjoyed a suffocating superiority over their city rivals, Zidane's side go into the Champions League final basically as underdogs.

Diego Simeone has created a behemoth: how many players from the opposition would Real take? Jan Oblak, Koke and Antoine Griezmann? Who would Atletico take out of the Real lineup ahead of the final? Luka Modric probably and Cristiano Ronaldo, definitely ... and the fitness of the Portuguese remains open to question ahead of Saturday's showdown.

The 2014 final hangs heavy on Atletico shoulders. Simeone's side were seconds from victory; Real's eventual 4-1 win was a kick in the teeth and one that the Argentinean will be keen to avoid again.

Revenge is a word used often in football, but always prefixed by a diplomatic "we're not after..."

But the mood in Madrid at the moment is electric and unashamed. Atletico want revenge -- they need it -- and in the eyes of Rojiblancos, particularly, and the wider world, they jolly well deserve it.

For many, Zinedine Zidane's team go into Saturday's Champions League final as the underdogs.

The manner of defeat in Lisbon was so heartrending for the red and white half of the city that it will only be expunged by inflicting something similar on Zidane's side. Gabi recently described it as a "scar that will never heal."

Sergio Ramos' injury time equaliser was the first insult. The final score was the second. In the interim, Ronaldo celebrated a converted penalty as though as he had just single-handedly defeated a celestial XI. That, judging by the current running through the capital, has not been forgotten either.

Atletico are out for revenge, whatever the word they will use to dress that up in prematch news conferences. And if they can achieve it while piling misery upon their chief tormentors in Lisbon then so much the better, in the eyes of Rojiblancos.

Simeone will aim to achieve victory in the same way he always does: defending as a block, hitting on the break and winding up the opposition like a children's toy. It is a game that Zidane's players must not become embroiled in. The absence of Raphael Varane is a huge blow to Real in this regard. Simeone and his players know only too well that Ramos is never too far from trouble and Pepe, if the right buttons are pushed, can be just as volatile. It may not be pretty, as Griezmann admitted in a recent interview, but it works.

"We play ugly football, with 11 men behind the ball, but that's what suits us, that's what makes us win every weekend, what got us to this final and we're not going to change."

Atletico's main armaments are the three players mentioned above. Oblak has been exceptional this season, keeping 24 Liga clean sheets and conceding just 18 times, equaling Paco Liano's record set in 1993-94 with Depor. Koke provided more assists for his side than any of Real's front three, and was only bettered by the utterly ridiculous stats of Barca's MSN -- Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Griezmann has banged in 32 in 53 games this season. Combined, the rest of the team have managed 54. Had the France striker been absent for any length of time during 2015-16, Atletico's season could have been very different indeed.

That is the spine of this Simeone side, fleshed out by quality players who are well-drilled, know their task and will not give so much an inch in Milan. It is this spine that Zidane will have to break in order to lift the Champions League trophy after just six months in charge of Real Madrid.

That would be quite an amazing feat. Real's first five European titles might be under a bit of unwanted scrutiny at the moment, but beating this Atletico side would arguably be more meritorious than Real's 2014 victory. Real fans will certainly sign up for that.

Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.


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