Atletico Madrid, thanks to a wonderful solo goal by Saul, take a slender but vital 1-0 lead against Bayern Munich into the second leg of the UEFA Champions League Semifinals. The game was played at a crazily high tempo with a boisterous home support at the Vicente Calderon cheering their team on. Pep Guardiola needs to come up with something radically different to break down this Atletico defence so that Bayern don’t lose their third semifinal in a row.
The only surprise from the starting lineups was Pep’s decision to drop Thomas Muller and play Coman/Thiago instead. This decision backfired, but initially it did make sense as Pep want Bayern to exploit Atletico’s narrow shape by overloading the wings and switching play. Atletico’s amazing workrate meant that they were able to counter Bayern’s wing play quite easily by doubling up.
The first 20 minutes played out as expected with Atletico pressing really hard high up the pitch and not giving Bayern any chance to build play from the back. Pep’s plan of playing three midfielders in the center with Thiago, Alonso and Vidal was to survive the initial period and then start controlling the game as Atletico tired. But Torres and Griezmann were working really hard to close down Alonso and Thiago , and Bayern had simply no answer at that time. Saul’s goal came during this phase but it was a case of exceptionally poor defending by Bayern. It was a special goal in a special occasion but it was too easy for Saul who managed to evade four players and score the goal. This was the worst situation Bayern could find themselves in and it was perfect for Atletico who settled back into two banks of four.
Atletico’s centerbacks were impressive in keeping Lewandowski completely out of the game with Gimenez following the Polish striker everywhere. Bayern’s gameplan was to overload the wings to counter Atletico’s narrow formation. Both the wingers Coman and Costa stayed out wide even when the ball was in the opposite side of the pitch with the fullbacks and midfielder supporting them. Coman was poor and even Costa didn’t have much success as Atletico’s full backs were excellent along with the wide midfielders who worked tirelessly to double up at every opportunity.
Bayern continued to attack down the wings as they sought to create 1v1 opportunities for Costa and Coman but both of them couldn’t create any chances as Atletico were quick to close down and with their narrow formation,they always had an extra player to cover. Special mention to Filipe Luis here, as the former Chelsea man was immense in both defending and while countering. Bayern started to up the pressure in the second half as Atletico started defending deeper and deeper. Ribery came on for the off-color Coman and Costa moved to the right but he had no success against the brilliant Filipe Luis. Muller came on for Thiago and but by this time Atletico were comfortably sitting deep and for a couple of long shots aside, Bayern couldn’t create any clear cut chances. In midst of all the Bayern possession, Atletico had few dangerous counters with Torres hitting the post once and Koke hitting the rebound straight to Neur.
Overall Atletico defended really well but Bayern can take confidence from their second half performance. The opening 20 minutes rattled Bayern and Saul’s goal was a sucker-punch which the Germans couldn’t recover from in the first half. Guardiola had a sensible plan to overload the wings but too many of Bayern’s players seem to be in bad form. Although Thomas Muller’s omission was criticised widely, both Coman and Thiago had specific roles which they were better at(at least on paper)than Muller. Both of them failed, Coman was ineffective on the wings and Thiago just couldn’t find the time and space with Atletico’s intense pressing down the middle.
For the second leg, Guardiola most likely will continue to use the same tactic of attacking down the wings but with a slightly altered starting lineup. The composition of the middle three will be vital and Alonso has to be dropped. Bayern need to play Vidal as the deepest midfielder to counter Atletico’s pace on the counter, they simply can’t afford to concede an away goal. Thomas Muller will definitely start and his movement to overload the right side along with Costa and Lahm will be an important outlet for Bayern. Boateng’s possible return also will be crucial as Bayern missed his ability on the ball.