Champions League Final: Can Atletico Break Ronaldo’s Supply Line?

Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz will host Saturday’s monumental Madrid derby, of which the winner will be crowned European champions. While Atletico will be gunning for a domestic and European double and their first ever Champions League title, Real look to become continental kings for an incredible tenth time and salvage a below-par season.

Both teams are capable of hurting each other, but what tactics should they employ, which players should they be wary of, and who is most likely to steal the limelight in the 59th European football showpiece? Let’s see what our data at Sports Matrix says.

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It is clear that Real are likely to enjoy the lion’s share of possession. They had control of the ball for 62 per cent of the two sides’ contests this season (two La Liga games and two Copa del Rey games) and executed far more build-up moves through passing (46.3) than Atletico (23.3), whereas more of Atletico’s individual build-up moves were classed as ‘high quality’ (48%) than Real’s (33%) – out of an average 10.5 and 13 moves respectively.

A tantalising head-to-head could materialise in the engine room, with Atletico’s Gabi and Real’s Luca Modric both proving themselves instrumental in building attacks. As Xabi Alonso is suspended, the responsibility should lie with Modric, whose percentage of ‘good attacking actions’ was highest in both legs of the semi-final for players with over 30 ‘attacking actions’ per game.

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Despite being tagged as a defensive midfielder, Gabi has an excellent long range shot as proven by a 30-yard thunderbolt in the teams’ 2nd La Liga game, which ended 2-2 at the Estadio Calderon. 35% of his attacking actions were good, the highest of any Atletico midfielder in that game – so it could be wise to leave Tiago in a more defensive role.

In that game he also delivered the most passes (36) and made the highest number of attempts to create chances of any Atletico midfielder (6). Though these figures were still overshadowed by Modric’s numbers of 52 and 10 respectively.

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Atletico need to increase their ‘high scoring chances’ and convert them better – they only made on average 1.8 per game against Real (2.0), compared to 4.7 over the course of the season. Atletico must put their straight-forward chances away when they arise – they scored on average 0.3 times from ‘high scoring chances’ in Madrid derbies, while Real notched an average of 1.0 a game at their other end.

It looks like Atleti will try to hit Real on the break – they made an average of 13.5 counter-attacking moves to Real’s 10.5 when the two teams met, and their offside-per-game average of 3.2 compared to their opponents 0.5 over the season shows us how they favour taking advantage of a high defensive line.

After all, possession isn’t everything against Real; Bayern dominated possession in every 15 minute time period of both legs in the semi-finals, but still lost the tie. However, Atletico should be careful not to sit back and attempt to soak up too much pressure. The 2nd highest source of Real’s ‘dangerous events’ against Atletico come from a 2nd ball into the box, and 23% of the time they have regained possession from either Atletico’s defensive errors or clearances it results in a ‘dangerous event’.

Ronaldo is clearly Real’s biggest goal threat – with 50 already this season – and his main supply line in final could be Argentinian Angel Di Maria. Di Maria made the most number of passes to Ronaldo (6) in the 2nd leg of the semi-final, and spent the most time in dangerous positions in the final 3rd. Maybe this gives Di Maria the edge over team-mate Gareth Bale for selection on the right wing? Only Carlo Ancelotti knows.

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Ronaldo spent by far the most time in scoring positions around the box over the semi-final legs and La Liga games against Atletico and had 17 more shots on target than any other Real player in these games (23), so how can he be stopped?

He often takes the ball from the middle and left side of the pitch – left-back Fabio Coentrão supplied him the 2nd most passes over the two legs of the semi-final and two La Liga games between the sides. This highlights the duty of Atletico right winger Koke to stop Coentrão finding his Portuguese teammate.

It will be an occasion laced with emotion for the two neighbours that have reignited their rivalry this season, but don’t forget about the tactical battles and fascinating sub-plots all over the pitch.

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