As the bookmakers predicted, Real Madrid wrote themselves into footballing folklore with a dramatic 4-1 win over city rivals Atletico in Lisbon on Saturday evening.
Despite the scoreline, this was anything but a landslide victory for Los Blancos, and Spanish football should be congratulated for providing two teams who were able to put on what was a truly outstanding spectacle. If 2013 was the year of the German, 2014 is certainly the year of the Spaniard, and with the World Cup just around the corner, a second successive World Cup win would certainly put the gloss on what has been a stupendous season in Spanish football.
In recent weeks, Atletico have been championed as the plucky underdog and the neutral’s favourite, and whilst I don’t disagree with this standpoint, I have to be honest and say that I think the best team won in Lisbon on Saturday. Despite their eminent riches, Real Madrid have been the best footballing side in Europe this season, and for that reason Carlo Ancelotti’s side are certainly worthy of their long-awaited La Decima.
No doubt you’ll have read mountains of tactical analysis on the game itself, but here we bring you three thoughts from the Champions League final.
Real are the most dangerous side in Europe
This might seem pretty obvious given the fact that they’ve just won the Champions League, but it really is worth emphasising that the side that has been built over the last few years is one of the most complete footballing sides the game has seen in the modern era.
Okay, so they’ve had a few hiccups in the league, but Ancelotti’s men have been absolutely rampant in Europe, and the array of talent all over the pitch whenever Real step onto it is truly startling.
This was highlighted brilliantly in the truly superb performance of Angel di Maria in Saturday’s game. Di Maria is generally seen as an afterthought when one considers the talents of Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema, but what we saw on Saturday was that di Maria is a threat in his own right.
With Bale and Ronaldo shackled by the sterling defensive work of Diego Simeone’s side, di Maria was afforded far more space than Atletico would have liked, and he sure made the most of it, slicing through the Atletico defence on a number of occasions.
For Atletico, this was a reminder that however well you plan, when you’re playing a team that has so much quality all over the pitch, you’re going to be punished for every single mistake.
Bale was worth it
There were a number of people (myself included) questioning the wisdom of Real spending €91 million on Gareth Bale, but on Saturday night and throughout the entire season, the Welshman has been a key part of what has been a wonderful Real Madrid side.
Real paid an awful lot of money for Bale, but the reality is that the landing of La Decima after 12 years without a single final appearance in the Champions League will more than cover the cost of Bale’s transfer. Not only will Real receive significant prize money and television revenue, but the commercial possibilities resulting from their tenth Champions League win are likely to be endless.
On the pitch, Bale has formed a fearsome trio with Ronaldo and Benzema, and after a shaky start in Spain, has looked more assured as the season has gone on. For Bale, the season has obviously been a resounding success. He left Spurs to win trophies, and he’s already won two of them, with plenty more to follow.
Tiki-taka takes a backseat
Real’s win indicates that modern footballing is evolving yet again. For a number of years, the tiki-taka style favoured by Barcelona and now Bayern Munich has been the dominant style of play in Europe’s premier competition, but without wanting to sound premature, tiki-taka is either dead or in a deep sleep right now.
Pep Guardiola’s Bayern were battered by Real in the semi-finals, with Madrid playing that high-intensity and powerful game that is easy on the eye and hard on the lungs, and Real’s performances over those two legs perfectly showcased the very best way to beat the Barcelona model. If Guardiola wants serious success at Bayern, he may need to change his style, but it seems unlikely that the Spaniard will be prepared to compromise his footballing ideology.
All in all, Saturday’s game was the perfect end to what has been the most mesmerising season for many years, and with the World Cup still to come, 2014 has spoilt us when it comes to football. Let the good times roll.
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