DEJA VU #1: LEAGUE RIVALS IN THE FINAL
Last year's Bayern team took the 2013 Bundesliga title away from Dortmund, who'd held it for the previous two seasons, and Athletico Madrid wrestled the 2014 title away from Real Madrid, who'd won it the year before. Bayern's Champion's League final against Dortmund was the sixth time the teams had met within a year, with Bayern winning three, Borussia one, and two contests ending in a draw. Real and Athletico have faced off four times already this season, with Real taking both legs of their Copa del Rey pairing, and Athletico winning one of their La Liga matches, the other finishing in a draw.
DEJA VU #2: TRYING TO GET OVER THE SENSE OF DISAPPOINTMENT ABOUT HAVING TWO LEAGUE RIVALS IN THE CL FINAL
It's hard not to get excited about the final of the world's best sport's second best competition if you enjoy football and have a pulse, but the epic-ness always feels dulled when the last two standing play each other so much already. In the past ten years, it has happened thrice; in the last two years, twice.
The closest thing conceivable in a World Cup would be an Argentina-Brazil. a Netherlands-Germany, or a France-Italy final, but if both teams were good enough to make it through to that point, the football-loving populace would hardly be heard complaining, despite the sides having already met two times in the qualifiers.
The Champions League is at its best when it resembles that initial round of the World Cup, when every team is unproven because there is no valid context, and each team's brazen fans think their squad capable of giving even higher-ranked opponents a thrashing.
Are the Ecuadorian and the Swiss fans both not perfectly confident that they will have the edge when they face off in the first round in Brasilia? What about the Cameroonians and Mexicans in Natal?
In this league rival final, there's perhaps too much context, when, in a shrinking world, we perhaps appreciate the converse.
DEJA VU #3: THE BEST-COACHED TEAM AGAINST THE RICH TEAM
Diego Simeone is clearly this year's Jurgen Klopp.
Both Borussia and Athleti seem to play in a way that hints at homage to their coach's personality, almost the way a dog at least appears to personify their owner. Hallmarks of both sides are focus, grit, and tactical acuity, although Dortmund is slightly the more offensive-minded and Athletico the more brutal. They are also both potential trailblazers as modern, adaptable counterattacking sides that often press high up the pitch. Neither of the sides require possession to win, but nor could either be accused of pessimistically sitting back.
Both sides could be accused of rough play, particularly Simeone's, but this also seems to stem from the teams' intrinsic win-at-all-costs attitude, which--let's face it--is surely the envy of many or most of the other managers around Europe.
We need not dwell on the rich teams' riches much, but here are two facts that should serve to define the disparity which coaching has made up for:
- Bayern and Real pay roughly double what Borussia and Athletico do for the same number of players.
- Bayern and Real are the top-paying teams in the Bundesliga & La Liga, respectively.
DEJA VU #4: ONE TEAM WIELDS THE WORLD'S DEADLIEST WINGERS
Although for most of their time together they somehow managed to fly slightly under the radar (even while making it to two of three Champion's League finals in three years), Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben have clearly been the best peripheral tandem in the game for the last half decade, until perhaps the end of this year. Their usurpers look to be the impossibly talented duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Christian...I mean Gareth Bale. Both strong, speedy game-winners who need to be tactically accounted for because they can motor past almost any individual back in Europe not named Alaba or Alves; they have begun to realize their potential just as their predecessors have begun to appear slightly stale.
While Ronaldo will surely be lined up to the left of Benzema as a forward in Ancelotti's 4-4-2--with Bale on the right side of his line of four in midfield--both will end up in advanced positions on opposite sides of the pitch, and can safely be referred to as 'wingers.' Like the Bayern pair before them, they may also sweep in towards each other to try and create fresh offensive possibilities as Ribery and Robben have done so well over the years in clutch moments, and notably in last year's Champion's League final. On the break, Bale and Ronaldo are downright evil.
DEJA VU #5: ONE TEAM'S STAR PLAYER HAS ALREADY (SEEMINGLY) SIGNED ELSEWHERE
It may be easy to imagine professional footballers as lacking in even basic values, and being agent-driven into chasing $ they no longer need at the expense of their teams, coaches, and fans, but Mario Gotze and Diego Costa seem to be particularly egregious examples.
If Gotze was going to make a jersey switch, why would he not have saved his decision, this vital information, until after last year's Champions League final--especially as his destination was the enemy. Don't players realize that these are potentially their career's biggest games?
Their egoism undermines everything about the underdog project of brow-beating Goliath. Instead, their ill-timed message purveys a discreet hopelessness, and it's as if there's a reverse-moving walkway under the David-ish franchise that underlines the stolid reality that even if they put together a dream season, they won't be able to keep their team together to compete over a full four-year cycle as their direct rival has the luxury to do. Oh, and by the way, if Mario expected to promptly receive the keys to Bayern's racer this season, he found himself instead sitting next to Julian Green in driver's ed.
Diego Costa's offence, to be fair, is far less wanton, although it's been widely reported in the very weeks leading up to the Champion's League final that he will soon complete a move to Chelsea. Purists can't help themselves from the thought: 'Why leave the best-coached team in Europe right now when you are the hypothetical linchpin of a squad that looks like it could be competing for football's highest club honors for years to come?'
And perhaps we'll never understand, but I can't imagine ex-Athleti strikers Fernando 'El Nino' Torres, Diego Forlan, Sergio 'Kun' Aguero, and Radamel Falcao watching this final without a touch of at least professional envy.