Atletico Madrid has been one of the Cinderella stories of this season.
However, their fairy tale story ended with the princes of Madrid breaking their hearts in stoppage-time of the Champions League final.
Atletico head into stoppage-time of last night’s final leading their expensively assembled rivals Real Madrid 1-0 in the Champions League final.
It looked like Diego Simeone and co. were about to complete another incredible feat after clinching La Liga last weekend.
However, as they dropped deeper and deeper into defence, it seemed almost inevitable that Real would find a way through and in the third minute of stoppage-time they did. The goal scoring hero was not forwards Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo, but centre-back Sergio Ramos.
The Spaniard had headed home two crucial goals in the semi-finals of the competition against Bayern and when his bullet header beat Thibaut Courtois, it felt like only there was only ever going to be one winner of the Champions League.
Los Blancos went on to win 4-1 in extra-time, with goals in the second period of extra-time from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was hard on Atletico and their fans though.
Traditionally these two clubs have very different fan bases. Real Madrid is associated with Spain’s aristocracy, while their city rivals are very much regarded as the working peoples club or the peoples club, to use a quote once used by former-Everton boss David Moyes referring to the Toffees fan base.
The biggest difference in the two clubs though is finances. Real Madrid are richest club in the world, while in recent years Atletico Madrid have had to sell to buy, with last summer being the perfect example, as star striker Radamel Falcao departed for a big payday in Monaco.
The difference in finances is illustrated perfectly in the fact that Real Madrid currently own the two most expensive players in the world in Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, who both cost over £80million and who both scored goals in extra-time against Atletico.
Despite the huge gulf in finances, Atletico Madrid has managed to bridge the gap superbly this season. Boss Diego Simeone has been absolute inspiration for Los Colchoneros. The Argentine has dragged every last bit of talent out of his squad of players.
Atletico are probably the most well-organised and drilled team currently in club football. They may play attritional football at times, but that is because they are not playing on a level playing field to most of their opponents, both at home and abroad.
Simeone has found a way of combating the superior teams and put Atletico on a level playing field. His team very much reflects Simeone as a player. They are tough and uncompromising, but they get the job done and sometimes that is all that matters in football.
The likes of Koke and Gabi, not to mention the whole of the back five for Atletico Madrid were outstanding in regulation time last night, but in the end Real Madrid’s expensively assembled Real Madrid found a way to unlock football’s tightest defence.
To their credit Atletico Madrid kept going, but the quality of Argentinian midfielder Angel Di Maria in particular shone through in the second period of extra-time. Finally, even Atletico’s master tactician simply could find the answer to how do you stop the most expensively assembled team in world football.
Atletico’s boss Simeone is often controversial and in last night’s game it showed in a couple of incidents which should not distract from his incredible achievements with Atleti. His passion and will-to win sometimes gets the better of him, but at least the fans know he really cares about their club.
The game may have been a completely different affair had Turkish midfielder Arda Turan started and Diego Costa had not limped off after less than 15 minutes of the game gone. Costa was always going to struggle after suffering a hamstring injury in Sunday’s title decider at Barcelona.
Simeone has since admitted that starting with Costa was a mistake. The Spanish international is so vital in getting Atletico up the pitch and could have provided an out ball in the last 20 minutes, when Real pushed for an equaliser and Atletico dropped deeper into defence.
Turan was also a major miss for Simeone’s side. The Turkish international has been superb this season and provides a lot of the team’s creativity. Atletico are not a team that can afford to lose such big players and still expect to compete again their more illustrious rivals.
In the end the loss of those two players may just have proved too much for Atletico, despite Atleti coming so close to claiming their first European Cup.
Real Madrid deserves credit for finally claiming La Decima, but winning trophies is what is expected of players at Real Madrid. The players that represent Los Blancos are some of the best in the world and should be challenging for the big trophies.
It looked for so long in last night’s clash that La Decima would have to wait another season, but Real finally found the goal and the quality to win the game and that famous Champions League trophy.
Last night’s final may prove to be Atletico’s best ever chance to win a European Cup. Next season it will be difficult for Diego Simeone’s team to repeat this season’s performance, as the vultures of the European game are circling looking at Atleti’s best players.
Outstanding young keeper Thibaut Courtois is set for a return to Chelsea, after a three-year loan spell, while teammate Diego Costa could be joining the youngster at Stamford Bridge. Atletico losing players is nothing new though, it seems to be an annual event.
However, in the last few windows Simeone has always found a solution to losing his stars. Falcao went he had a ready-made replacement in Costa. It may not be so easy for Simeone to replace his two main departing stars this summer.
If anybody can achieve it, Simeone can. The Argentinian has proven himself to be a master tactician this season, but even Simeone’s tactical acumen could not compete with the sheer quality that Real Madrid possess and in the end that quality shone through.
Will Atletico Madrid be challenging for the big trophies next season?