Champions League Final – Talking Points
By Ger McCarthy
Tactics and formations
Real Madrid’s 4-3-3 setup functioned as expected with Sami Khedira starting in the centre of midfield instead of the suspended Xabi Alonso. Alonso’s absence affected the supply-line to the famed front three of Benzema, Ronaldo and Bale who were unable to influence the game in the manner Madrid fans would have hoped for until deep into extra time.
Isco and Marcelo’s arrival sparked a late revival as a tiring Atletico side retreated into defensive mode and the belated arrival of Morata for a hugely disappointing Benzema helped Real Madrid turn defeat into the most amazing of victories.
Atletico Madrid stuck with their favoured 4-4-2 formation throughout the Champions League decider despite the pre-match loss of Turan to injury and Diego Costa before 10 minutes had elapsed. Adrian came on for Costa and seamlessly played up front alongside David Villa at the apex of Atleti’s attack without ever unduly worrying the Real back four.
Raul Garcia slotted into Turan’s position on the right wing before Jose Sosa replaced the midfielder midway through the second period who was on a yellow card and struggling to deal with the increasing influence of Angel Di Maria.
Alonso was badly missed
Sami Khedira was asked to step into the centre of the park and replace the suspended Xabi Alonso having only just returned from a long-term injury. The German international picked up a booking, was out-jumped by Godin for the game’s opening goal and failed to make the positive impact Carlo Ancelotti would have hoped for before being called ashore on the hour mark.
Alonso was picked out by Atletico’s players and coach earlier in the season as the Real Madrid player they felt required the most attention. Not Ronaldo, not Gareth Bale or the in-form Angel DiMaria, but Alonso.
The former Liverpool midfielder’s ability to protect his back four as well as maintaining the tempo in midfield permitted the likes of Di Maria, Modric, Ronaldo and Bale to flourish, best exemplified in the two-legged semi-final trouncing of Bayern Munich.
Bottom line is that Madrid badly missed the Spaniard’s influence but deserve huge credit for overcoming the loss of one of their most important players and eventually claiming ‘la decima’.
It proved a Costa mistake
Diego Costa lasted all of 9 minutes before having to go off injured begging the question just what was Diego Simeone thinking by starting the Spanish international in the first place?
Costa has been substituted in three previous fixtures, was clearly far from 100% match-fit and ended up costing Atletico a substitution in the biggest game in the club’s history. Although Simeone’s squad is paper-thin compared to their more illustrious rivals the idea that the Argentinean coach had little option but to select a clearly unfit Diego Costa from the start was absurd.
The decision back-fired on the Spanish league champions with Simeone unable to replace a cramping David Villa in extra time and for all the Argentinean’s expertise in guiding Atleti to the La Liga title and a Champions League final, questions will be asked about starting a clearly unfit Costa.
Bale’s misses almost proved costly
The former Tottenham Hotspur winger was famed for his ability to gallop away from opposing defences and score important goals whilst plying his trade in the Premier League before securing a lucrative move to the Santiago Bernabeau.
Bale was gifted possession from a wayward Tiago pass after 32 minutes of Saturday night’s Champions League final before accelerating inside a couple of defenders and missing the target with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Granted the close attentions of Tiago and Miranda may well have done enough to put the Welsh international off but on a night of fine margins Bale’s miss ranked as a major turning point, especially with Aletico grabbing the lead three minutes later.
Bale should have done better with two additional opportunities in the 73rd and 78th minutes before the winger rose highest to head home Real’s second and match-winning goal.
The importance of set pieces
Uruguayan international Diego Godin took full advantage of Iker Casillas’ unwise decision to come for a Koke corner on 35 minutes. The Spanish international goalkeeper got caught in no man’s land and was unable to prevent Godin’s header from crossing the line.
It wasn’t that surprising to see an opening goal coming from a set-piece considering the lack of space afforded in a crowded midfield area and the safety-first approach of both teams on the most important of nights.
And to underline the importance of set-pieces and corner kicks at the highest level just look at Sergio Ramos’ towering injury-time header to take the final to extra time when Atletico appeared set to win it.
Defenders deserve recognition
Sergio Ramos has many detractors and is not afraid to indulge in the ‘dark arts’ when called upon to help his side out of a troublesome situation. Yet the character and determination of the Real Madrid central defender cannot be questioned following his stellar individual performance in Lisbon.
His late equaliser to take the final to extra time along with his boundless energy during a tiring 120 minutes ensured Real Madrid remained in contention right up until the final, final whistle. Ramos has been immense for Ancelotti and Madrid this season and deserves recognition for his performances.
A word too for Diego Godin, whose previous headed effort won La Liga at the Camp Nou only a week before and a superbly timed tackle prevented Isco from equalising with 10 minutes left.
The South American defender is often overlooked when reporting on Atleticos’ star players from this momentous season but Godin more than proved his worth to Diego Simeone this year and especially over the past fortnight.
Follow Ger on Twitter: @germccarthy74