Carlo Ancelotti’s approach
Ancelotti knew that his Real team would have more possession in this game. He also knew that Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale’s influence in the game would be limited because Atletico would defend deep and deny the two flying wingers the space to break at pace.
While Ronaldo can still operate in confined spaces, Bale’s influence was going to be significantly reduced. The Italian manager therefore set his team up to attack in an expansive way and involve as many players in their offensive play as they could safely do so.
When Los Blancos were in possession, full-backs Fabio Coentrao and Daniel Carvajal had to push up as auxiliary wingers to try and stretch Atletico’s defence.
Sami Khedira, the holding midfielder, needed to drop into centre-back to add a layer of protection. Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric both had to try and go forward from midfield to help out in attacks.
Ronaldo and Bale naturally had to cut inside to make a front three with Karim Benzema. Out of possession, they defended in a 4-4-3 formation with the full-backs back in the defensive line.
Diego Simeone’s approach
Diego Simeone intended to exploit the absence of Xabi Alonso and Pepe in his opponents’ starting XI, so he started with a positive team.
His wingers had to frequently converge centrally when Atletic were in possession, while up front he started with two pure centre forwards.
Defensively though, Simeone had his team set up to press high and early as a unit so that they could stop Ancelotti’s men from getting into any dangerous attacking rhythm.
They were also geared to smother both Ronaldo and Bale in wide areas to make it very difficult for those wingers to get into the game. It was a plan that demanded a lot of industry from his team but the Rojiblancos have been providing that throughout the season.
So at the back, Simeone had a flat back-four with Juanfran and Filipe Luis picking their moments to provide width.
In central midfield, Tiago partnered Gabi, while Koke and Raul Garcia started out wide. Koke and Garcia had to track back Real Madrid’s full backs while cutting inside to support the strikers when their team had possession.
Up top, David Villa started with Diego Costa. They both had to press for the ball while one of them would drop deeper to make a five-man midfield and help with ball retention.
Key tactical changes
The game started well for Atletico as they disturbed Real Madrid’s plan while also causing problems going forward. Costa could not last the first 10 minutes of the game and was replaced by Adrian Lopez.
The move actually helped Atletico as they were more mobile; they frequently had five players in midfield and Real barely got chances.
Around the hour-mark, Real were trailing so Ancelotti opened the game up with a double substitution; Marcelo came on for Coentrao at left-back to add more attacking impetus on that flank, and Isco came on for Khedira.
They changed to a 4-4-2 formation; Modric and Isco were the central midfielders, Di Maria went to the left wing, while Ronaldo tucked in behind Benzema.
The move improved Los Blancos’ build up play; they managed to breach the middle third more and they pinned the Rojiblancos in their half with sustained attacks. Atletico tried to hold on but they were pegged back in injury time and the game went to extra time.
Neither team had substitutions left to make so the game was in favour of Real Madrid, who had the momentum and fresher legs.
The three goals that Real scored had more to do with tiredness among Simeone’s men. They retained the ball much less than earlier, tracked back less and Real Madrid ended up winning it convincingly.