It felt like Leicester took a key step toward securing the Premier League title at the start of the week when they bounced back from the draw with West Ham to dispatch Swansea 4-0 with an assured display, even in the absence of Jamie Vardy. With Tottenham then dropping two points the following day, it now means the Foxes need only 3 points from the remaining 3 fixtures to guarantee the title. While I feel it is unlikely that they will secure the title at Old Trafford on Sunday, with Spurs travelling to Chelsea the following day, a draw may prove to be a good result.
It was interesting to see Real Madrid adopt a relatively conservative approach in their trip to the Etihad; presumably the thinking was that as long as they weren’t behind going into the second leg, they would win the game at the Bernabeu. City have two key saves from Joe Hart to thank, but will feel that they are in a strong position going into the game in Spain; with Aguero seemingly fit and back to his best they will fancy their chances of getting a goal and if they were to score first it would really put the pressure onto Real.
Real’s cross city rivals produced another brilliant and highly effective team performance; this time the ‘immovable object’ frustrated another ‘irresistible force’ and nullified Bayern’s previously free-scoring attack just as they had Barca’s in the previous round. Once again it was an utterly captivating defensive display from Simeone’s side. They actually seem to relish having their ‘backs against wall’ and seemed to get better and better as Bayern endeavoured to notch up the pressure on them. I saw a stat the following morning that Atletico have now registered 135 clean sheets in the 256 games that Simeone has been manager; that equates to more than half of the games in which he has been in charge. The reaction to the game from pundits and reporters suggest a shift in the way that Simeone’s approach is perceived; with more and more comment centring on not just how effective Atletico are, but being genuinely complementary about how enthralling it is to watch. Atletico’s approach isn’t purely a defensive one that centres on sitting deep and tight around their penalty area and making it hard for the opposition to get through; it also includes intense pressing high up the field, especially in the earlier parts of the game and quite possibly the best one-on-one tackling that I have seen. When they do win the ball they attack with genuine intent and at pace and carry a real goal threat.
It is starting to feel that the obsession with possession approach typified by Guardiola’s Barcelona and the Spain national team is coming to an end; with more and more success coming from teams that are organised and capable of launching clinical counter attacks at pace. On the BT UK coverage, Gary Lineker highlighted the similarities between Leicester and Atletico and it will be interesting to see if this type of approach becomes the modus operandi for more and more teams in coming seasons.