Two very different midfield styles will be on display in Saturday’s Champions League final in Milan but the midfield battle will be key to where the game is won or lost.
Real Madrid boast a finely tuned midfield, while Atletico Madrid are more renowned for their heart and physicality in the centre of the pitch.Real coach Zinedine Zidane has followed in the footsteps of predecessors Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benitez by having a midfield trio that offer balance in the middle of the park.
Having three players is essential because of the presence of a front three of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema leading the attack.
The drawback of this scenario is that the midfield area can be overrun, and so it is necessary that the team can defend as a unit.The roles of each midfielder are well defined – Casemiro is tasked with defensive duties, while Luka Modric and Toni Kross can take the ball from a central position to the flanks.
Pepe and Sergio Ramos can step forward and add more bodies to the midfield, and they may have to do just that against a Rojiblancos side that like to pack the centre.
Atleti’s midfield composition is harder to predict, changes in formation have been down to the need to stop different opposition in different games.
Nevertheless, the players are well drilled and they know what is expected of them, nothing is left to chance.
Atleti like to put a lot men around the ball – this allows for recovering the ball when out of possession and also enables the team to dictate the game when leading.
Milinko Pantic, the former Rojiblancos midfielder, said this puts on a lot of strain on creative players.
“I couldn’t player under Cholo Simeone, look at Arda Turan, he bore it for a while and then left.”The players they have now, however, are great – Saul Niguez and Koke are technical and physical, and Gabi provides the balance.”