The alarm bells rang Tuesday when neither Gareth Bale nor Cristiano Ronaldo joined their Real Madrid team-mates for pre-Champions League final training but coach Carlo Ancelotti immediately quashed any concerns by confirming: “Both will play”.
With Atletico Madrid doing their best to disguise what looks like the almost certain absence of hamstring-injury victim Diego Costa, Ancelotti was not indulging in any such mind games.
“You can’t change a player’s physical condition in just three days so it doesn’t matter if a players spends one session in the gym instead of out on the pitch... both Ronaldo and Bale will start,” said the Italian, who will try to emulate Liverpool’s Bob Paisley on Saturday by winning the European Cup three times as a manager.
Ancelotti is already one of an elite group of six who have won the tournament as both a player and coach and Saturday’s final in Lisbon will be his seventh in total. He said: “There is no pressure on me. I’m just happy that we’ve reached the final. That was the first objective, now for the second which is to win it.”
His relaxed approach is welcome at a club where the anxiety of winning the La Decima (10th European Cup) has often been an added obstacle to them actually delivering it. It is an approach that seems to have been transferred to the players. “Bale is really excited because it’s his first final and is in an excellent physical shape,” Ancelotti said. “The biggest obstacle you can have in this situation is fear.”
Real have met Atletico four times already this season and they also contested the Spanish Cup final last season. “There are no secrets between us,” he added. “It will be a very equal game and we know that we will need to work very hard to win the final. We will need to graft and to be very united on the pitch.”
Atletico’s greatest strength this season has been their togetherness, both as a group off the pitch and, in a very literal sense, on it. “It’s not just that they are compact when they defend, they are compact when they attack,” said Ancelotti, who promised Real would go on the attack against their neighbours. “They are in a great moment because they have just won the league but we have the thrill of being able to make history. We won’t go to cancel them out, we will be playing to hurt them.
“We have to think positively and we have [Zinedine] Zidane here with us, the man who scored the goal in Glasgow in 2002 that delivered our last Champions League.”
Ancelotti’s position is unlikely to be under threat if Real fall short, having won the Spanish Cup against Barcelona and reaching the club’s first European Cup final in more than a decade, but the former Milan coach was still asked if he feared the sack if they are defeated. “I’m not thinking about if we lose. I’m thinking about how we win,” he said.
Real will give Portuguese defender Pepe a late test on his calf strain and Ancelotti confirmed if he has not recovered then 21-year-old French defender Raphaël Varane will play in his place. The Real coach will also have to decide between Fabio Coentrao or Marcelo at left-back, as well as betweenSami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi in midfield with Xabi Alonso suspended.
As well as waiting on Costa’s fitness, midfielder Arda Turan is also a doubt for Atletico. “They have played well without Costa and Turan. They are great players but I don’t think it changes it that much,” added Ancelotti.