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MOTD: Bayern Munich 2-1 Atletico Madrid (2-2 agg)
Only Atletico Madrid could have held on. Diego Simeone’s men were out-shot thirty-three to seven, out-possessed 73% to 27% and defeated 2-1 by Bayern Munich, yet still managed to secure their second berth in the Champions League final in three years.
After a 1-0 victory in the opposite leg at home, Atletico nipped through the semifinals on away goals in a triumph of defensive organization and counter-attacking brilliance.
Although it was a loss of fine margins, and Bayern coach Pep Guardiola declared he was “happy” with the way his team went down gallantly, never straying from their possession-oriented philosophy, it exposed a larger, more systematic trend.
For four consecutive years at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola has gone out at the semifinal stage in the Champions League and he has struggled to replicate the success of his famous Barcelona team with different players.
The Spaniard, though, was unshaken by the loss. “Titles are just numbers, statistics,” he said, per The Guardian. “I wanted to reach the Champions League final here and I didn’t achieve it but it doesn’t change my opinion about the way I have performed. Yes, we are sad now and we want to go to Ingolstadt [on Saturday] to secure the Bundesliga title.
“Is this the biggest disappointment of my career? No. You are disappointed when you don’t play well. It’s a Champions League semi-final. It was the same when I was at Barcelona and we lost to Chelsea [in 2012]. We tried our best to score that night but we didn’t get through.
“Atlético were very defensive. We played to win and we did that. We didn’t score a goal in Madrid and that was the difference. We could have scored three or four tonight. My idea is to attack and go forward. The most important thing is this club has a great future, with great players and a great mentality. I just wish the best for the future at this club and I hope Carlo Ancelotti [the incoming manager] can keep the same level going.”
Bayern pressed high up the pitch from the opening whistle with the backing of a raucous home crowd.
Robert Lewandowski came close early on when Alaba clipped a lovely ball over the top to Muller’s run and the German midfielder cushioned the ball for Lewandowski with his first touch.
Lewandowski placed a cool finish towards the bottom right corner of the goal, but Jan Oblak tipped it wide with his toes to keep Bayern out.
In the thirty-first minute, Bayern got the goal they were looking for when Xabi Alonso’s twenty-five yard free-kick deflected off of Gimenez de Vargas’ knee and into the back of the net. It was the first goal Atletico had conceded in 632 minutes in all competitions and the floodgates were open.
Bayern had a golden chance to double their lead just moments later, when Gimenez dragged Lewandowski down inside the box. In set-pieces, a lot of tussling in the penalty area is excused by the referees, but Gimenez’s drag was cynical and painfully obvious. Muller stepped up to tale the penalty but put it right at a savable height for Oblak to parry wide.
Atletico, however, found a crucial away goal on the other side of the break. On a quick counter-attack Greizmann brought down Koke’s long ball to Torres and made a darting run in-between Bayern’s center-backs. Torres threaded a through pass right into Antoine Greizmann’s feet and the Frenchman bore in on goal with all the space and time in the world. He opened up his hips as if to aim for the far post, sending Manuel Neuer to the ground, then tucked a neat finish past Neuer at his near post and into the back of the net from the edge of the box.
Bayern edged their way back into the tie, though, as Alaba swung a cross from the left towards the far post, where Vidal hung in the air to head the ball back across goal for Lewandowski to finish.
Although Bayern bombarded Atletico’s goal, the visitors nearly had a chance to put the game to bed when Fernando Torres won a penalty with less than ten minutes to go. Javi Martinez brought the Spaniard down with a needless challenge right on the edge of the box and although there was heavy debate over the merit of the penalty, Neuer ended the speculation with a fantastic stop on Torres.
If anything, the stop spurred Bayern forward to make one last big push. Atletico’s defense, though, was equal once again.
Said Simeone: “It was unbelievable how they played. It was great to see such intensity. I was literally in love with this game. But we soaked up the pressure and we won the game. We coped with the pressure that they put on us. It’s just unbelievable what we have achieved. We have beaten two of the strongest teams in Europe – first Barcelona in the quarter-final and now Bayern.”
Homepage photo credit: Rufus46 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons