It was a night that was desperately cruel on Atletico Madrid players and fans.
As if being in the control of some sadistic football god, Atletico were given the hope of revenge on their city rivals, only to have it snatched away by the harshest of punishments, the penalty shootout.
While the red-half of Madrid suffered their third loss in a European Cup final (their second at the hands of Real), the white-half celebrated their 11th triumph in the tournament with their club legend and rookie manager, Zinedine Zidane.
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It has been well reported that Zidane has joined a small group of people who have gone on to win the Champions League (or European Cup) as both a player and manager.
Zidane is the seventh man on the list that also includes: Miguel Muñoz, Giovanni Trapattoni, Johan Cruyff, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola.
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It has been a meteoric rise for a manager who was only appointed to the Real Madrid hot-seat in January, but the 43-year-old’s achievement cannot be downplayed by the fact that he has inherited a team full of superstars.
Back in 2010, Sam Allardyce, then managing Blackburn Rovers, suggested, remarkably, that he could win league titles if he was in charge of a “top” club.
This attitude perhaps demonstrates just why 'Big Sam' has never been given an opportunity at the top level, and it also demeans what it means to be a great manager or coach.
Zidane emerges from his first four months as manager, not only with the Champions League, but also with immense credit for dragging Real back into the title race in Spain and forcing Barcelona to win their final game of the season to retain their crown.
Under Rafa Benitez, Real were shackled by the Spaniard’s regimented approach, which led to poor performances in the league, and their expulsion from the Copa del Rey, having fielded an ineligible player.
A 3-2 loss away to Sevilla in November was followed by an embarrassing 4-0 thrashing in El Clasico at the Bernabeu.
These results acted as the catalyst for the end of Benitez and since his departure, form and morale have picked up.
The improvements both on and off the pitch have to be credited to Zidane, who clearly has the respect of the dressing room, and a tactical wisdom to allow his team to succeed, which was truly on display at the Nou Camp in April when Real avenged their home loss to beat Barca 2-1.
Statistics also confirm that there has been an improvement at Real since Zidane has taken over.
During Benitez’s brief reign, Real scored 69 goals and conceded 21 in 24 games. Under Zidane, Real have scored 72 but, more significantly, conceded just 17 in 27 games.
The attacking fluidity of Los Blancos was not on display for the entirety of the Champions League final on Saturday night, but the defensive solidity certainly was.
With a back-four of Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Dani Carvajal, one would be forgiven for thinking that Real do not have the most convincing of back-lines.
Marcelo is a Brazilian full-back who is in the mould of Roberto Carlos, proactive in attack and far less convincing in defence, while Carvajal on the right is a similar player.
Ramos is the defensive leader and a world-class performer but his partner, Pepe (who has been keeping the highly rated youngster Raphael Varane out of the team), proved on Saturday night that he is a volatile player who is always walking a tightrope that could, at any time, lead to disaster.
The simplistic, yet clever, tactical decision Zidane has made during his short time at Real has been to switch from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3, making use of a holding midfielder to protect the back-four.
In Casemiro, Zidane has found the perfect player to provide excellent cover for the surprisingly solid back-four.
Casemiro gave another assured performance for Real on Saturday as Los Blancos limited Atletico to just four shots on target.
The 24-year-old Brazilian contributed superbly to his team’s defensive cause with the second highest successful passes in his team (59), a staggering 15 ball recoveries (8 more than Marcelo in second), eight successful tackles and six successful clearances.
After a bright start to the game, Real’s attacking trio of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, and Cristiano Ronaldo began to fade, with the latter clearly not fit, Bale suffering from cramp towards the end of the game, and Benzema replaced before the end of the 90 minutes.
As Atletico began to come back into the game, Real’s rearguard stood firm and didn’t allow their goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, to be truly tested.
Zidane deserves enormous credit for his role in guiding Real to their 11th European Cup and for proving his credentials as a manager in one of the most highly pressured jobs in the modern game.
By building his team from the back, the French legend has given his talented attacking trio, as well as the creative midfielders, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the platform to play with freedom and expression and Zidane has been richly rewarded.
Next season will bring pressures of their own, but for now, Zidane can revel in his managerial achievement and plan how he is going to defend his European crown and overthrow Barcelona in La Liga.
Who should Zinedine Zidane try and sign for Real Madrid this summer in order to retain their Champions League? Let us know YOUR thoughts in the comment section below!
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