Atletico Madrid defended diligently and attacked smartly during their 1-0 Champions League semi-final first leg victory over Bayern Munich. Saul’s magnificent weaving run and finish was enough to separate the two sides and was the outstanding piece of skill in a highly contested affair. Pep Guardiola’s last chance to win the prestigious competition with the German club is now hanging in the balance as he attempts to rouse his side to overturn their one goal deficit in Munich next week. Here are the five things we learned:
5. Atletico startled Bayern
Atletico used their home stadium to their advantage particularly in the first half. Bayern looked stunned in the opening half an hour and could not get to grips with the game. The hostile atmosphere the Atletico fans created at the Vicente Calderon teamed with Diego Simeone’s tactics to harass Munich put Guardiola’s side into a fit of shock, even resorting to route one tactics when they were unable to link up with Lewendowski.
Saul’s goal capped off what had been an inspired opening quarter of an hour from the home side and at that point, had Atletico grabbed a quick fire second, Munich may well already be out of the tie. Although Bayern came roaring back into the game in the second half the mood of their play suggested they were not fully comfortable playing an Atletico side against such an emotional backdrop.
4. Gabi and Koke ran proceedings
While the pairing of Xabi Alonso and Thiago Alcantara are the more universally known central midfield masters they were hugely outshone on the night by the midfield paring of Koke and Gabi. Ian Darke commented on the amount of Atletico fans that had “Gabi” displayed on the back of their shirt calling him “an unsung hero” and the Spaniard was exactly that. Gabi epitomised everything about Simeone’s team’s performance with a blend of grace and grit. Working hard in the midfield areas stamping his authority on the game Gabi allowed him midfield partner, Koke, to roam and create chances for the attackers.
Koke pulled the strings along with Saul for the La Liga side. This gave Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann to the ammunition they require to make Manuel Neuer’s life difficult at times.
3. Tactics & missing players hurt Bayern
Not one to question Guardiola’s tactics often, if at all, but leaving Thomas Muller on the bench has to be seen as a mistake. Muller is a player who links up the attack and midfield brilliantly for Bayern and also works harder than any Munich attacker.
When coming up against such a well drilled, hard working outfit you need the personnel to match Atleti’s worth ethic and Muller may have made a difference had he started the game rather than being introduced from the bench.
Arjen Robben’s absence was felt greatly also. While not the most industrious player he possesses the individual brilliance that could have snatched Bayern the all important away goal.
2. Atletico are the real deal in Europe
After their 2014 final heartache against Real Madrid and reaching the quarter-finals of last season’s competition, only to be thwarted again by Real, Atletico have shown that they are one of the best three or four teams in Europe. If they make it through the test to come at the Allianz Arena it will be the second time in three years that Simeone has guided his side to the final.
While they may not have the budget to compete with Real and Barcelona on a year in year out basis their squad, style of play and fine coaching and management makes them a legit contender for the big-eared trophy every year – every year as long as Simeone is there anyway.
1. Bayern to up the pressure next week
While not a huge defeat to overturn Bayern will be keen to get back into the tie as early as possible next week. This should see them attack with more venom right from the first whistle but it will also leave them more open to the counter attack – and Atletico do not need any invitation to hit teams on the break.
Guardiola will have to find a balance perhaps in both personnel and tactics to attack with real intensity while still remaining stable at the back. Jerome Boateng will be fit for the return leg next week and many would expect Muller to start. Munich should be stronger in terms of options for the return leg.
However Simeone will set up his team much like on Wednesday and will look to frustrate Bayern, forcing them into several long range attempts which kept Lewendowski isolated. Bayern will be more susceptible to the break in Munich and one away goal could kill off any real chance they have.