Real Madrid vs Atletico: Asensio must take chance to replace Ronaldo

The BBC is dead long live the BBA… at least until it fails to deliver in a big final, at which time Real Madrid will rush towards the transfer market before it shuts to make a late bid for another forward.

The Bale, Benzema, Cristiano forward line that has played in most of the finals over the last five years is no more after Ronaldo’s switch to Juventus. Marco Asensio comes into replace the club’s all-time record goalscorer.

The young Spain forward – named Marco by his Dutch mother in honour of Marco van Basten – has already shown in his short Real Madrid career that he is capable of moments of brilliance and spectacular goals (he scored one in the European Super Cup final two years ago in Trondheim).

Now he needs to show that he also has some of that incredible consistency of performance that made Ronaldo so devastatingly effective.

The BBA forward line has delivered throughout the summer with only one of the goals nine goals Real Madrid have scored in pre-season not coming from one of those players.

Bale and Benzema both had summer breaks through non-involvement in the World Cup and have hit the ground running. There is a theory that just as Wayne Rooney thrived in the season after Ronaldo left Manchester United so Benzema and Bale will find it easier to score goals in his absence.

Benzema was always a willing provider of chances to Ronaldo. His unselfish running so often opened up the space for the Portuguese to find the net. Bale also allowed Ronaldo to be the protagonist.

It was Ronaldo’s movements dictating the movement of the rest of the team and it was the number seven that players such as Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Isco tended to look for when they were in possession. Now Bale is the outball and Benzema can be selfish and not worry about setting up Ronaldo. Time will tell if it works out.

‘There are no doubts about Bale in a football sense,’ said El Pais on Wednesday morning. ‘The doubts concern his physical capacity to replace Ronaldo’.

If he can stay fit then Julen Lopetegui will be a happy man. Benzema likewise has the ability. The question marks around him are also more related to his ability to do it week in week out with all the strains on the body that brings with it.

A failure of the Real Madrid forward line to score tonight would ring the alarm bells. The obvious last-ditch option is Rodrigo Moreno. The Valencia forward is well known and liked by Lopetegui who took him to the World Cup in Russia ahead of Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata.

He would also bring versatility because he can play wide too. But the former Bolton man has an 80m euro buy-out clause and President Perez has so far been reluctant to spend such sums on players who don’t bring with them any added commercial value.

In midfield tonight Madrid coach Lopetegui is spared the dilemma of who to drop because Luka Modric is still not ready to start after his World Cup exploits. He is likely to sit on the bench as Casemiro anchors, flanked by Toni Kroos and Isco.

Defensively Real Madrid are expected to be at full strength with Raphael Varane partnering Ramos and Dani Carvajal and Marcelo on the flanks.

Keylor Navas will start in goal ahead of new signing Thibaut Courtois. That means Real Madrid avoid antagonizing Courtois’ former loan club Atletico Madrid. It also means they are showing due respect to Navas who has achieved too much over the last four years to just be ditched now that Courtois has arrived.

Navas played through pre-season and he was the keeper in the Champions League final that Madrid won to qualify for this final.

What happens beyond tonight is far less clear. Courtois will play in La Liga. The only question will be: does Navas get to keep his place in the Champions League – tonight’s display will go someway to answering that question.

Diego Simeone does not have the luxury of his star forwards being in the sort of rude health that Benzema and Bale are enjoying.

Antoine Griezmann has only just come down from his World Cup winning cloud and Diego Costa seems to be warming up slowly with injuries hampering his pre-season. Both are expected to start in front of a midfield that will include stalwarts Koke and Saul but may also feature two new signings: holding midfielder Rodri and winger Thomas Lemar.

For the Atletico Madrid coach there is no keeper dilemma: Jan Oblak stayed in the summer despite Chelsea keen on paying his 100m euros buy-out clause. He starts as Atletico look to do what they have failed to do in their last two Champions League final appearances and beat their neighbours Real Madrid.