It’ll be the last European match at the Vicente Calderon, but it may not be one Atleti fans will want to remember. With Real striding to a 3-0 victory through a Cristiano Ronaldo hattrick in the first leg, it’s hard to see a scenario where this is a happy ending for their neighbors. Like the first leg, Gareth Bale will miss out through injury, which is just a convenient excuse to start Isco again, who has been bright when given a chance. As Ronaldo evolves into a penalty area poacher (albeit one with an astounding scoring rate), Isco’s creativity has been a welcomed addition, creating space and chances for the aging legend. Atleti are certainly a better squad than the one that showed up for the first leg, but a 3-0 deficit will require them to go forward with a ferocity that is bound to leave them exposed at the back. Great for viewing, maybe, but a scenario in which they’re likely to get burned. A single away goal from Real would almost certainly be the end of this tie.
Last season’s Champions League proved to be heartbreak again for Atletico as they were runners-up to rivals Real Madrid for the second time in three years. The momentum should continue for Atleti, however, as manager Diego Simeone has stayed put. Also committing themselves to the Vicente Calderon is star French forward Antoine Greizmann, who will be joined in attack with the formidable options of Fernando Torres, Kevin Gamiero, Saul, Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan, among others. Combine that with a stern defense and Atletico Madrid are no longer relative surprise finalists, but one of the favorites. We’ll be treated to a matchup against Bayern, but with PSV Eindhoven and Rostov rounding out the group, Atleti should make it out comfortably.
The record-holding 11 time winners will defend their current trophy without the usual summertime Galactico business. But, when your squad includes the likes of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema, finally finding consistency is a positive. We have yet to see Zinedine Zidane take a full season at the helm with all the pressure the toughest gig in management provides - how he responds to turbulent times will determine the length of his tenure. The expectations for this squad are the same as every season: win every trophy they compete for. With their aforementioned attacking prowess bolstered by a reliable defense, they could do just that.
Was named player of the tournament at Euro 2016, scoring six goals and adding two assists in seven games.
The rock at the heart of Atleti's defense has played over 180 matches for Los Rojiblancos.