The Sports Saturday Thread #2/UEFA Champions League Final For 5/24/14: The Key Matchups And Predictions
Sami Khedira vs Tiago/Gabi - It's quite the stage for the German glueman to be given the starting center midfield nod in his still early convalescence from his long term ACL tear back in November. Khedira faced Atletico in the first Madrid derby of the season and was outperformed by Simeone's two holders. It didn't help Khedira that his partner Illarramendi wasn't ready to perform on the day in that big match, but it was a performance that will make Tiago and Gabi ready to attack further this time around. With Xabi Alonso's absence, Khedira will need to be strong and provide the outlets for Modric and Di Maria without them coming back too much to assist him.
Diego Costa and David Villa vs Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos- With Pepe unavailable and Costa's magically available, this matchup has turned from a decent Real advantage to a firm toss up. It's still a question on how effective the much discussed horse placented Costa will be, while the unexpected news of the Portuguese centerback's absence means that the young French defender will have to have a firm partnership with Ramos. With Raul Garcia lurking on the side, their communication will be vital, especially after Ramos & Pepe hit their best form together in the Bayern Munich fixtures.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs JuanFran- As mentioned down below, Juan Fran has transformed himself into one of the world's best rightbacks. He will need to continue that level today against a Ronaldo who comes into the final in his hometown at less than 100%. The knee continues to be a bother for him, and if JuanFran can be secure in containing him going forward, it would behoove the potential Spanish World Cup rightback to make Ronaldo (and Di Maria) having to defend as well.
Gareth Bale vs Felipe Luis- It still is a quite a shame that this will be the last we saw see of Luis until late July at the earliest. The leftback has had a wonderful season, and yet, that still wasn't enough to convince Luis Scolari to play him on his home soil for Brazil. Luis will be fully aware that Bale will cut inside and try to have Carvajal help him on the right, and will hope he doesn't have the slight mistake he made in the second leg against Chelsea.