Atletico Madrid will have a mountain to climb as they hope to recover a three-goal deficit over Real Madrid on Wednesday.
It was the Cristiano Ronaldo show in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final encounter between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid as the Portuguese superstar looked up for it from the offing, and went on to record an impressive hat-trick on the night.
Los Merengues went into the contest as the favourites, but it was undoubtedly much easier for them than they must have expected. They were given time on the ball, were rarely bogged down, and often caught the Atletico players napping.
If Atletico are to come make it to their second final in as many years, they will have to put in their performance of the season. Overcoming a three goal lead is improbable, but is never unassailable, and that’s the motivation manager Diego Simeone will be giving his men before kick off.
Team News and Tactics
Due to the numerous injury worries he had to deal with, Diego Simeone’s makeshift Atletico Madrid side was massively outplayed by their local rivals in the first leg. His opposite number Zinedine Zidane fielded a near perfect lineup, and gave Atletico tonnes of problems to deal with.
For starters, Simeone’s decision to play Lucas Hernandez as a right-back came as a shock. With Juanfran and Sime Vrsaljko ruled out, Stefan Savic was expected to start in their stead, but it was Hernandez that was given the nod.
A left-footed centre-back playing as a right-back doesn’t have too good of a ring to it, and Zidane’s men took full advantage of the player’s inability to adapt to a new role. He was tasked to keep Ronaldo at bay, but the Portuguese unexpectedly started as a striker.
Thus, Hernandez is likely to come back into a central position, with Savic moving to the right. Diego Godin will partner the Frenchman centrally while Felipe Luis is expected to start as a left-back.
Simeone will be hoping to see more from Antoine Griezmann as the Frenchman was seen making random runs, hoping to find space, but his teammates were not on the same wavelength as he was.
The Atletico boss also knows that his side is likely to be dominated centrally, so he will look to stretch the play and make optimum use of the wingers in his 4-4-2 system.
Atletico Madrid Probable XI: Oblak; Savic, Godin, Hernandez, Luis; Carrasco, Niguez, Gabi, Koke; Griezmann, Gameiro.
Zinedine Zidane employed a 4-4-2 diamond in the first leg, and took Atletico by surprise. Not known to be one to tinker around with systems, it came as a huge shock that the Frenchman had started with two strikers.
Ronaldo, who loves to drift centrally and play as an auxiliary striker, did just that from the outset, alongside Karim Benzema. Spanish attacking midfielder Isco played in the hole behind the two strikers, and was a terror to deal with for the opposing defenders.
His movement off the ball was so good on occasion, that it caused overloads in the Atletico midfield. Saul Niguez and Gabi were often drawn out of their position to counter the threat of the former Malaga man.
This system did, however, leave Madrid threadbare in the middle of the park, and were fortunate not to be overrun by Atletico Madrid in that department. It gave Real a good attacking foundation, but slightly weakened them on the defensive front.
Thus, Zinedine Zidane is likely to revert to a 4-3-3, with the three midfielders maintaining a compact shape with Marcelo flying down the left flank, On the right, Nacho is expected to start in lieu of the injured Dani Carvajal.
Real Madrid Probable XI: Navas; Nacho, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Casemiro; Isco, Benzema; Ronaldo.
- If Atletico manage to overcome the three-goal deficit, they will become the first team in history to do so in a Champions League semi-final encounter.
- This will also be the final time a European game will be hosted at the Vicente Calderon as the ground is set to be demolished come the end of the season.
- The hosts have won 29 out of their 35 games at the Calderon, and will be looking to bow out on a high.
- By winning on Wednesday, Real Madrid will be one step closer to achieving a back to back Champions League triumph – something that is yet to be done.
- Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 103 Champions League goals – which means he has outscored all but 22 clubs to have particpated in it.
The Portuguese superstar has been too hot to handle in the Champions League and was exceptional in the first leg as well. He will undoubtedly be one of the favourites to find the back of the net once again for Los Blancos.
Also, with a weakened Atletico defence, Ronaldo will be trying his luck, looking to add his fascinating goal tally in European competitions.
Atletico Madrid 1-1 Real Madrid
Atletico will learn from their mistakes of the first leg and are expected to be more difficult to break down. Also, with home advantage, they will fancy their chances come kick-off, hoping to pull off a huge victory.
However, Real are in exceptional form lately and are expected to see it off on aggregate. While they often show lapses defensively, that will not have to big of an impact to have an effect on the overall outcome of the match.