You’d be brave to bet against Real Madrid later today, when they take on Atletico in the Champions League semi-final second leg. Madrid’s 3-0 victory in the first leg all but sealed their name on Europe’s elite trophy this season—unfortunately for Zidane, his side will still have to go through the pesky Juventus after all this is said and done.
However, it’s not said and done just yet. Simeone has given all indications to suggest Atleti have not given up. He said in the immediate aftermath of the first leg defeat: “Football is marvelous, as unexpected things happen sometimes. I think we still have a chance.”
In all seriousness, although Atleti’s chances are slim—very, very slim—it’s not impossible. But the job is obviously harder when your front three does not have, say, Neymar, Suarez, and Messi in it.
So will Atleti make a comeback? Only god knows. But if they do, how will they?
Glad you asked.
The main areas which Atletico will be looking to exploit are the flanks. If Madrid start as expected with Nacho playing instead of the injured Carvajal, Real’s right side will provide particular hope to Atleti’s offense. With Filipe Luis marauding forward with his typical venom and dangerous crossing ability, some form of fruition is to be expected from overloading men on that side of the field. Moreover, it’s also sort of the only side of the flank they can exploit, as Savic, like he did in the first leg, will again likely play instead of the injured (hamstring) and brilliant Juanfran.
However, that does not mean that they cannot create two v. ones on Real’s left side as well, where Marcelo and Ramos aren’t particularly known for their defensive prowess. Carrasco will likely switch sides quite often, but the main pivot here has to be the free-roaming Griezmann. If the Frenchman can have some incisive touches to send his Belgian teammate to the races, Atleti can create valuable opportunities.
Set pieces will also be pivotal for both teams. Atletico are well known for their aerial prowess, but in Real, they’ve drawn against a side that’s even stronger than them in the air. For there to be any chance of success, Atleti will need to implement the “blocking” strategy that’s frequently used by Real (to see that Ramos gets a free header). Godin is the favorite here to maybe win a header or two and see if he can make good use of it.
Other than that, Atleti better hope that Koke has his passing boots on. If there was ever a game where he needed to pinpoint a 60-yard pass down the field into Griezmann’s stride, it’s this one. If the pass comes, Griezmann is more than likely to at least get a shot on target, as evidenced by his prior pedigree in this regard.
Real Madrid, as you can see from what I’ve written above, have few really exploitable weaknesses in their team; which probably isn’t a surprise considering they have the most expensively assembled squad in the world. However, Atletico can hope to at least put up a good fight. Who knows, Ronaldo and his crew may have an off day. If that is the case, though, Atletico will probably take the aforementioned routes to scoring goals.