The much anticipated semi final first leg of the UEFA Champions League between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich was decided by a breathtaking solo goal in the 10th minute by 21 year old Spaniard Saul Niguez.
In what proved to be one of the tightest games in this season’s Champions League, Atletico Madrid will travel to Germany’s Allianz Arena in a week’s time with a one goal advantage.
Diego Simeone demonstrated yet again what Arsenal, Dortmund and Leverkusen have already achieved this season – keeping Bayern from scoring. Atletico’s clean sheet is their 33rd of this season from 52 games, which is in itself a tremendous achievement.
The extraordinary atmosphere around the Calderon with fans clapping and cheering all the players on was justly rewarded on the 10th minute of the game. The wonderful Saul Niguez collected the ball near the half way line and turned away from Thiago Alcantra, dribbled the ball majestically between Xabi Alonso and Juan Bernat as David Alaba struggled to cover Neuer’s goal. Saul found the ball at his left foot and put a stunning strike past Neuer into the net as Vidal came sliding in to no effect.
Saul’s goal sent the Atletico fans into delirium as they started to hope for a place in the finals. The hosts sat back and let Bayern play their marauding game of possession football only to ruthlessly soak up pressure and try to counter attack whenever given the chance. It was a game between two polar opposites in terms of football philosophies. Simeone’s laboured style of football to frustrate the opponent clearly worked as Bayern found it very difficult to translate an astronomical percentage of possession into scoring opportunities.
DIEGO SIMEONE – 7/10
He was the clear winner in the first leg of the match, but only time will tell whether he manages to conquer Bayern Munich with his pressing style of football and snuffing out spaces in midfield. Missing out on the services of Diego Godin, Tiago and striker Yannick Carrasco, he once again proved he can bring out 110% effort from his team. His players did what we have usually seen them do – frustrate opponents by congesting spaces, especially in the midfield area. Bayern wingers were being ganged up by two players to prevent them from having the opportunity of even passing the ball back to the centre, let alone crossing it. Doubling up on players, hard work and toil has become Simeone’s ever-so-reliable mantra.
PEP GUARDIOLA – 5/10
Often charged with not being flexible enough, the former Barcelona manager has seen his side getting frustrated and exhausted all too often by a somewhat similar style of football. His teams were forced to play pendulum passes, more often than not unable to play through-balls to central midfielders who were constantly marked out of the game. Striker Lewandowski was frustrated with the lack of service as his team took recourse to taking long shots, lacking creativity in the final third of the Atletico box. 60% of Bayern’s shots were from outside the final third. His substitutions proved to be ineffective, when Muller and Ribery were brought on later for Alcantara and Coman. He took a big decision by not starting Muller in such a massive game. This is his 3rd defeat against Atletico as a manager.
Jan Oblak – 7/10
The custodian pulled off an excellent save from a Martinez header. He registered 7 saves in the game, taking his clean sheet tally to 8 this season in the Champions League.
Juanfran – 6/10
Had a tough time against Douglas Costa and Juan Bernat as there were 5 successful take-ons completed from his flank. But held his own with occasional help from Gimenez. Could have done better in the counter attacks by keeping possession.
Gimenez – 8/10
The youngster had a great game as he was everywhere in the defense with his tackling, interceptions and clearances. Had a tussle with Lewandowski whom he had marked out of the game completely. Made crucial blocks on more than one occasion.
Savic – 7/10
The ex-Fiorentina man did an excellent job covering for the injured Diego Godin as he partnered Gimenez to deal with the threat of Lewandowski as well as Vidal, who on occasions was making darting runs to the centre.
Felipe Luis – 9/10
The former Chelsea man, having a renaissance in his second spell, had another excellent game, picking up from where he left off against Barcelona. He made Kingsley Coman completely ineffective throughout the game as he towered over the young starlet, on loan from Juventus. Made useful contributions in the counter attack, dribbling past Bayern players with relative ease, changing his direction whenever needed as he cut in constantly from the left to open space up combining with Koke.
Saul – 9/10
Scored a dream goal in the first half. Gave Bayern’s defense, especially Bernat and Alaba, nightmares in the final third with his quick feet, composure and pace. Contributed greatly to defense as well as Bayern piled attack after attack.
Gabi – 7/10
Another great game for the captain with his hard working display, tiring and exhausting Bayern players at the centre of the pitch. He combined with Augusto on many an occasion to reduce space for Bayern players to manoeuvre.
Augusto – 7/10
The January signing did excellently well replacing the injured Tiago as he constantly pressurised the Bayern midfielders into stowing possession in the centre of midfield. An effective game of zonal marking for him, made many crucial interceptions and clearances.
Koke – 7/10
Did well to create an opportunity for Torres to finish from close range, which would have led to a second goal. Combined well with Felipe Luis and did his fair share of defending.
Griezmann – 8/10
Easily Atletico’s best player up front with his tireless display in front of attack and tracking back to make numerous tackles and interceptions. Had an excellent chance in the first half when he was able to get past Martinez, only to lose his footing in front of an onrushing Neuer.
Torres – 5/10
The striker was unable to facilitate hold up play, lost possession in the final third all too often and was easily bullied into surrendering possession. His moment of glory came late into the second half when he effortlessly dribbled past Alaba only to strike the post.
Neuer – 6/10
Could have done little for the Saul goal in the 10th minute, but otherwise effective when called into action. Made 4 saves, keeping Bayern in the game. Got a yellow card for misconduct against Koke when he pushed him to the ground.
Bernat – 5/10
Good with possession on the overlap but was one of the culprits letting Saul slip away from him for the first goal. Had a tough time against Juanfran.
Alaba – 5.5/10
Had a blistering strike from 35 yards out only to be denied by the woodwork, took two more shots from outside the box which didn’t trouble the keeper. Let Torres slip away easily for what could have been a second Atletico goal.
Martinez – 6/10
The makeshift centre back had a good header denied by Oblak. Fared relatively better than his other teammates against a formidable opposition.
Lahm – 7/10
Had a decent second half where he made several key passes, one of them being a lob to see Vidal free of his markers. Made several cut ins from the right to find space to provide passes for the attackers.
Alonso – 5/10
Had a quiet game by his standards, unable to force his style on the game being constantly pressured by Atletico players. Was guilty of letting Saul slip between him and Bernat to score the goal.
Alcantara – 5/10
Couldn’t provide that creative spark with his dribbling and pace which Guardiola was counting on. Was substituted for Muller early on in the second half.
Vidal – 7/10
Easily Bayern’s best player in midfield, provided a key pass for Lewandowski in the second half which he was unable to convert. He was a constant threat with his runs in the box. Had several half chances squandered.
Douglas Costa – 7/10
In spite of his dribbling, trickery and skills, he was unable to provide the key pass to Lewandowski to open Bayern’s tally. Had an otherwise good game.
Lewandowski – 5/10
Not his fault entirely as he was marked efficiently by Atletico defenders who surrounded him from all sides. Never really got any space in the Atletico box. Was frustrated throughout the match.
Coman – 4/10
Squandered a key chance in the first half for Bayern by taking too long to pass to Lewandowski who was free. Made a great run in the second half but was unable to convert.