Atletico Madrid were kept within reach by Leicester City as they claimed slim one-goal advantage in the quarterfinal first leg in the Champions League
Leicester City battled and fought hard against a dominant Atletico Madrid side at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday night, to ensure that they only lost by a narrow one-goal margin in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie.
It was a match in which Atletico commanded the bulk of the possession, but failed to create many clear cut chances. Los Rojiblancos had 68% possession in the match, but had just 3 shots on target, while the visitors couldn’t failed to manage any.
In the end, Antoine Griezmann’s 28th minute penalty was the difference between the two sides, giving Atletico the advantage heading into the second leg at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday. The Hard Tackle now takes a look at the major talking points emerging in the aftermath of the match.
Antoine Griezmann Makes The Difference
Who do Atletico Madrid look up to whenever there’s a severe need for a moment of magic? Who is the undisputed talisman for Los Rojiblancos for the last two seasons? It is undoubtedly Antoine Griezmann, the Frenchman who has been as prolific as ever this season.
Antoine Griezmann in 2017:
Games – 24
Goals – 18
Assists – 3 pic.twitter.com/LsB3huI0ga
— Mootaz (@MHChehade) April 12, 2017
A breathtaking 2015/16 saw the French forward enjoy his best ever season, scoring goals at will, finishing as the top scorer at Euro 2016 and finishing third in the race to win the Ballon d’Or. And this season, he has continued to re-establish his importance to the side.
Griezmann was the man who raised his hand up to score the equaliser in the Madrid Derby on Saturday, and on Wednesday it was the French international yet again who came up with the moment that made all the difference.
Driving forward towards the Leicester defenders, he was a menace throughout the night, and after Marc Albrighton brought him down for the contentious penalty decision, he made no error in putting it past Kasper Schmeichel. The second leg will be played in four days time and it will again be Griezmann who will need to come up with the goods to guide Atletico the semifinals yet again.
Craig Shakespeare Passes His First Big Test
Craig Shakespeare has taken the Premier League, and the Champions League by storm ever since he replaced the beleaguered Claudio Ranieri at the helm at Leicester City in February, and it goes without saying that he has provided just the tonic that the Foxes’ stuttering campaign required.
— Andy King (@10_kingy) April 12, 2017
Leicester have lost just once domestically since Shakespeare was appointed, notching up impressive and gritty wins over Liverpool and West Ham United before their run came to an end on the weekend. In the Champions League, they have played just one match under him – the shock win over Sevilla at home last month.
But, the trip to the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday was going to be his biggest ever test as Leicester City boss, and it goes without saying that Shakespeare passed it pretty well.
Sure, Leicester could not manage a single effort on target, and saw very little of the ball, but the fact that they managed to restrict Atletico to just one goal, which gives them more than a reasonable chance of making a shock progress to the semifinals with a big win over Diego Simeone’s men next week.
Referee Comes Under The Scanner
That it was a foul when Marc Albrighton brought Antoine Griezmann down in the 27th minute is not up for debate at all. Griezmann charged through on a counter-attack and was set to cause the visiting defence a great deal of worry when he was brough down by Albrighton on the left-hand side of the Leicester box.
Craig Shakespeare: “It wasn’t a penalty. It was a free-kick, but outside the box. At the end of the day it’s cost us the game.”
— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) April 12, 2017
However, what should have been adjudged as a free-kick in Atletico’s favour was given as a penalty to the hosts instead. Replays clearly showed that Griezmann was tripped outside the box and not inside it, and that referee Jonas Eriksson pointed towards the spot justifiably left Leicester aggrieved.
Griezmann made no mistake in converting from the resulting penalty to score his 24th goal of the season and Leicester boss Craig Shakespeare was right to claim that his side were hard done by by the Swedish referee’s officiating in that moment.
The Leicester fans will now hope that they have some better luck coming their way when they host Atletico in the return leg at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday, in order to have a chance of qualifying for the semifinals of the Champions League.
Wes Morgan’s Return Imperative
As much as the referee’s horrible gaffe left Leicester with a feeling of what could have been, their captain Wes Morgan’s absence hurt them equally. The Jamaican international has been missing since mid-March, and this was a match where they could have used his leadership qualities against the mighty Atletico.
Robert Huth gets a yellow, will miss second leg. Big blow for Leicester with Wes Morgan still out injured.
— Yemi Dada Castano (@YemiCastano) April 12, 2017
His replacement, Yohan Benalouane did give a good account of himself against the pace and trickery of Los Rojiblancos’ attack at Vicente Calderon, but Morgan’s partnership and understanding with Robert Huth at the heart of the Leicester defence was one of the foundations of their success last season.
Huth was booked in the second half of the match on Wednesday which now means that the German centre-back will be missing the second leg next week. That makes Morgan’s impending return to action all the more imperative as Leiceser need all the inspiration that they can get to trump Atletico in the return leg.
On to The King Power
Altetico Madrid blew Leicester City away in the first half as Antoine Griezmann and co. went on wave after fiery wave of attacking charge towards the goal in the first half that saw them register 10 shots at goal, compared to Leicester’s two.
Atlético have gone 3 years without conceding a goal at the Calderón in a CL knockout tie. This is the beauty of Cholismo pic.twitter.com/28bwMZJA2D
— K&M™ (@KokeAndMentos) April 13, 2017
However, Craig Shakespeare made important tactical changes in the second half to ensure that Atletico’s advantage through Griezmann’s 28th minute penalty was not doubled for the rest of the match. That meant that the match remains evenly poised with Leicester needing a two-goal win to progress.
That is certainly not beyond a team that has looked nearly unbeatable at the King Power Stadium. But, they are up against a side that is not nearly as susceptible at the back as some of the others that have turned up in Leicester in the Champions League so far this season.
This is a team that has reached the final of the Champions League in two of the last three seasons, and scoring twice against Atletico could definitely be a tough ask. However, with nothing much to lose, Craig Shakespeare and his men are sure to leave it all on the King Power pitch on Tuesday to ensure a shock progression to the semifinal.