After all the excitement and celebrations associated with Leicester clinching the Premier League title, the focus shifted back to European action in midweek; first up was Bayern v Atletico Madrid. After losing the first leg in Madrid, it was always to be expected that Guardiola’s side would go for it right from the off in the second leg; and true to their manager’s philosophical roots, we saw Bayern employ an intense high press that was designed to grab the initiative by keeping Atletico penned deep in their own half and forcing turnovers high up the pitch. For the first half of the game it worked and they managed to level the tie, albeit slightly fortuitously with a deflected Xabi Alonso free kick. They could have taken control of the tie completely but Muller uncharacteristically missed from the penalty spot.
At half-time Simeone changed his approach and went with three up front in what seemed like an attacking move, but the fact that Saul dropped in as the holding midfielder, also saw someone tasked with keeping close to Muller. The switch worked perfectly and eight minutes into the second half Atletico scored the all-important away goal to take another grip on the tie.
In the end, especially after Lewandowski’s goal, it came down to whether Atletico would be able to hold on. There is no better suited team in world football to doing just that; and despite spurning a late chance to seal it completely by missing a penalty themselves, they held on and got through to their second final in two years. The stats at the end revealed that Bayern had 33 attempts on goal and 72% of the possession, but Atletico once again held firm.
Atletico will of course face their cross city rivals again in a repeat of the 2014 final where they came so close only to be denied by a Sergio Ramos equalizer in added time. By all accounts Real’s passage to the final was fairly comfortable with City offering little by the way of goal threat and the Spanish side perhaps could and should have scored more. Whether Atletico can go that one step further this time around and overcome Real may come down to the performance on the day, so well-matched are the two teams.
Due to my own five-a-side commitments I wasn’t able to watch Liverpool overcome their one goal first leg deficit on Thursday night; but Our Kid provided the following thoughts having attended the game at Anfield:
The match last night had a very different feel than the Dortmund game, a feeling that we had, if not blown it, put ourselves behind the black with the goal conceded at the end of what had been an otherwise creditable performance in Spain.
There was a nervousness around the ground, although the emotional acknowledgement of the Hillsborough verdict last week did ensure that by kick off the electricity in the atmosphere was crackling.
Whilst there were nervy signs from Liverpool in the opening exchanges, this was replicated within the Villareal team and it was Liverpool who settled the quicker. Energetic closing down, a generally assuredness on the ball and some crisp passing allowed Liverpool to, if not so much dominate the proceedings, at least control the game.
I am not the best at reading style and tactics, but as in the first leg, the Spaniards were set up in 2 semi circles on the edge of the box, a yellow deflector shield; this time Liverpool were better equipped to attack it. Can, effectively a 3rd centre back, allowed Clyne and Moreno freedom to charge down the flanks, Sturridge’s constant movement provided an unpredictability that caused confusion, chinks in the deflector shield were soon apparent.
A combination of a few good crosses, intricate 1-2’s on the sides of the box and some great individual moves from Firmino and Lallana in particular created enough uncertainty in the defensive ranks to ensure that opportunities would arrive. These Liverpool grabbed with opportunism and a hint of fortune. The roar of the Anfield crowd and a little naivety of a good team but fairly new to this particular type of occasion helped Liverpool keep control.
The overriding feeling was one of great pride; this hadn’t been a crazy comeback where defensive frailties were overcome by passion, desire and the will of the Football Gods. This was a thoroughly professional performance against a quality side with a tough balance between attack and defence needing to be found, a great victory achieved the proper way.