Defense first as coaches' Serie A roots inspire 'catenaccio'

MILAN: If recent form is any indication, the San Siro stadium should be a fitting setting for a Champions League final between two defensive-minded teams.

Italy is the home of "catenaccio" — lock-down defense — a sometimes painful tactic to watch that relies on tight defense, patience and seizing on counterattack opportunities once the opponent makes a mistake.

Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has made no secret of his squad's "catenaccio" tendencies, conceding just 18 league goals in 38 Spanish Liga matches this season, the best per game ratio in Europe' s top five leagues.

"We adapt to our strengths," Simeone said Friday. "We're a smarter and a better team without the ball than other teams."

Real Madrid, while featuring high-scoring forwards like Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, also tends to clamp down in big matches — as evidenced in its 1-0 aggregate win over Manchester City in the semifinals.

"There's no shame in that because they're really dangerous on the counterattack," Simeone said. "At this stage, probably neither of us will change the way we play."

Simone and Zidane both played in Italy's Serie A and their Italian roots still shine through.

"Above all you have to defend well, especially when you don't have the ball," Zidane said. "When you don't have the ball, the only thing you have to do is defend. Then we have our weapons.

"It's going to be a very complicated game," Zidane added. "We also know how to suffer and tomorrow that's what we'll have to do. In a final it's perfectly normal to have difficulties. To win it you have to suffer."

When the two clubs met in the 2014 final, it was a defensive match until an eruption of Real goals at the end. Atletico led 1-0 deep into added time, only for Madrid to equalize and go on to win 4-1 after extra time.

"We know perfectly well what we need to do. Now we just need to do it," said Real defender Sergio Ramos, who scored that equalizer in Lisbon. "We need to defend and suffer as a team. ... We're going to leave our skin on the pitch to get that trophy."

Added Real's left back Marcelo, "Of course if we don't get scored on and we manage to score that will be the perfect game for us."