Atletico Madrid’s semi-final tie was about to enter the return leg at the Vicente Calderon, and the majority of people thought the 3-0 deficit was too much for a team that didn’t boast the type of attack that could make a comeback possible. Diego Simeone, however, and rather unsurprisingly, was defiant as ever. “Football is wonderful because unexpected things can happen,” he said, his words echoing a sentiment that anything in football is possible.
Simeone: "We will try to do something impossible, and because our name is Atlético de Madrid, it might make the impossible, possible." pic.twitter.com/QWin7PFYAT
— AtléticoFans (@AtleticoFans) May 3, 2017
Perhaps, the Argentine manager took the positives from their 3-0 loss at the Santiago Bernabeu and knew the only thing missing was their finishing. Their game plan was not to sit back in their classic and ever effective low-block 4-4-2 made up of ‘Cholismo.’
No, instead they high-pressed decently and counter-pressed extremely well. All that was missing from that first-leg performance was perfect final balls and some better technical play to take advantage of the numerous quality attacking phases they had.
Simeone knew this; he knew they just needed a clinical touch.
So, the stage was set for Atletico Madrid to make a comeback of historic proportions. The game plan was going to be the same; they were going to play open and higher up the pitch, except this time it was going to be carried out by players that knew they were likely going to be playing their last Champions League match at the Calderon.
That desperation, of course, can make a team’s physical output increase, and that is exactly what happened during the first 25 minutes at the Calderon. Atletico Madrid scored two goals in the first 16 minutes because their intense running and pressing prevented Zinedine Zidane’s side from getting into their possession flow. In short, Los Blancos had trouble getting out of their own zone on many occasions.
The video below showcases the numerous things that Atletico did well tactically and individually in the first 16 minutes and put them in a position to score twice in that timeframe.
After Atleti scored twice to make the aggregate score 3-2, Real Madrid slowly got more comfortable on the ball as Atleti became more compact as they were content to try and get their equalizing goal from counters.
However, Simeone’s side would be dealt a crushing blow when Karim Benzema would single-handedly create a goal by beating three Atleti defenders and Isco finishing the effort.
Isco’s goal and Jose Gimenez’s poor penalty area decision
Benzema’s goal creation was an individual play of wonder, no doubt about it. But, Jose Gimenez should have never gone into that corner. He should have stationed himself just outside the 2v1 scenario from the comfort of his own penalty area. Watch below.
As the match entered the second half, Atletico’s intensity dipped and many of the attack phase issues of the first-leg plagued them again. As a result, Los Blancos used their excellent build-up and possession play to give them control despite the odd Atleti counter.
In addition, Keylor Navas came up big on a couple of occasions in the second. Atletico had two point blank chances, one after the other, and the Costa Rican denied them both. Two chances wasted again.
But, despite exiting from the Champions League for the fourth straight time against Real Madrid, Atleti still played a better match than their display at the Bernabeu. In the opening 25 minutes, Atleti showed a lot of their world class defensive zonal awareness, and their pressing intensity. They’re more than just a team that sits deep.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, will try out their numerous weapons against the best defense this season in Juventus. Real Madrid wasn’t at their best at the Calderon, but they didn’t need to be after Benzema’s magic. We shall see if Zidane’s men can overcome Massimiliano Allegri’s fortress.