On Friday night, the city of Madrid will come to a standstill as the Spanish capital’s two most decorated clubs do battle in the Santiago Bernabéu.
For Atlético Madrid, the season hinges on this one match, as they try and do what has proved impossible for 14 years and overcome eternal rivals Real Madrid in their own backyard.
Kick-off is all set for 21:30 CET.
Since Diego Simeone took over at Atlético back in January of last year, almost everything has changed.
The defence, once compared to a circus act, is now the meanest in La Liga, countless records have been broken, and the team has cruised to automatic Champions League qualification for the first time this millenium.
However, one thing has remained the same. They still cannot win a derby.
Despite all the expectation, Real Madrid did a fourth successive league double over the red and whites this year and in all truth, didn’t have to work particularly hard for it.
Still, in his two finals so far, Cholo has gotten just about everything spot on, and has been working day and night to prepare his team for what will be the toughest test of them all.
Unlike in recent meetings though, he has his whole squad available to him, with all 20 first team players currently concentrated in Los Ángeles de San Rafael, as well as upcoming star Óliver Torres.
In his press conference, the 43 year-old tactician also decided, much in the style of his opposite number José Mourinho, to name his starting XI a day in advance.
Radamel Falcao plays up top in the midst of strong speculation linking him with a move to AS Monaco, and Diego Costa comes back in alongside him to bolster up the attack.
Elsewhere, the only real contentious choice is that of Mario Suárez, who missed the weekend’s defeat to Barcelona with a knock picked up in the previous match. The 25 year-old is preferred to Tiago.
Mario proved his worth in Bucharest and Monaco, but will need to show much more tomorrow night than he has recently to compete with Real’s star-studded midfield.
Simeone conceded that los Blancos had the superior players, but made clear that his team would give everything in the 90 minutes to try and come out on top.
“They’re better than us, no doubt, but everything changes in one game; anything’s possible,” he said. “We’re a side that plays with commitment and humility, and in the world nowadays, where everything is tough, I’d compare us to the people out there. Hopefully with hard work, humility, team-work and the possibilities we have, we can compete with Real Madrid and succeed.”
“After reaching our main goal, which was to finish in the top three to ensure Champions League football and grow financially, it seems that the most important thing for the fans is to win trophies,” he continued.
“They don’t celebrate finishing third, they celebrate winning silverware. We’ve been after this trophy from the beginning and we are where we want to be.”
He was also asked why he chose to take the team back to our traditional pre-season base in San Rafael, stating that he hoped it would give them added motivation going into the final.
“I’m a bit old-school and I like going back to our roots,” he said. “I want the players to go back to the place where they began to dream, and imagine all this success. It’s good for them to remember how this all started.”
The Argentine was joined by Falcao and captain Gabi in the press room, and the former seemed confident in his team’s chances.
“Real Madrid the favourites? We believe in ourselves,” said the Colombian. “We work within our possibilities and know what we have to do. We’re not bothered if they’re the favourites.”
Unsurprisingly, the subject of his future was also hot on the agenda, but our top scorer and record signing remained tight-lipped.
“I don’t know anything about Monaco, all I’m thinking about is Atlético,” he underlined. “The press have signed me for half of Europe, even after 6 months here they had me transferred, but I’m still here.”
Local media have, of course, been talking up a move for Falcao to Real Madrid, but the whites will be without defender Raphaël Varane to stop him on Friday.
The 20 year-old has excelled this year and become an undisputed first choice, but underwent knee surgery earlier in the week that will see his season end prematurely.
Apart from him, Mourinho has the rest of his squad to choose from and, unlike in last month’s league clash, will be sending out all the big guns.
It’s been nine years since the ex-Chelsea and Inter Milan manager last lost a final, a solitary Portuguese cup defeat with Porto against Benfica back in 2004 the only one of his career so far.
He also has an incredible record in derbies, and has won all eight meetings with Atlético since taking the reins back in 2010.
Widespread speculation suggests he will be off at the end of the season though, and as usual, he decided not to attend his press conference ahead of the match. Assistant Aitor Karanka wasn’t there either, so vice-captain Sergio Ramos was left to speak instead.
“In finals, there are no favourites. At the beginning of the season the Copa del Rey wasn’t important for us, but now it is,” he said.
“We all need to help each other and defend this crest until the last minute, and show the fans our love for the team. On the field it is up to us to perform well, and we are all rowing in the same direction: to win.”
Three years ago, Atleti played in the cup final for the first time since the doblete, but luck was not on our side as goals right at the start and end of the match saw Sevilla win 2-0.
The last time we were faced with Real Madrid though was back in 1992, with goals from Paulo Futre and Bernd Schuster sealing a famous 2-0 win in their own backyard.
We were also victorious in two of the other three previous derby finals, all of our triumphs coming inside the Santiago Bernabéu. Should we win tomorrow it will be our tenth cup in total, and first for seventeen years.
Los Merengues have supposed ‘home advantage’, but our fans have turned neutral venues from Barcelona to Bucharest red and white in recent years and you can expect the same again. However, which side of the capital is celebrating come midnight, will remain to be seen.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Pulido, Cisma, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Óliver
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa
Real Madrid match selection:
Goalkeepers: Casillas, Diego López, Adán, Jesús
Defenders: Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo, Albiol, Coentrão, Arbeloa, Carvalho, Nacho
Midfielders: Alonso, Essien, Özil, Kaká, Di María, Khedira, Callejón, Modrić
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuaín, Benzema, Morata
Referee: Carlos Clos Gómez