The Legacy of Atletico’s European Rivalry
The quarter-final of UEFA Champions League wrapped up in very dramatic and surprising fashion on Wednesday night with title holders and competition’s main contender Barcelona was eliminated in the Vicente Calderon, while Bayern Munich booking their Semi-Final passage in a very challenging scenario. The all Spanish duel between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid witnessed the highest extent of intensity, excitement and pulsating outcome as Diego Simone’s men masterminded a perfect tactical strategy to overturned their 2-1 first leg defeat at Camp Nou by grasping a delightful 2-0 win at home and ended Barca’s dream of defending their title this season , while repeating their memorable history of crushing their Spanish rival when winning a 1-0 aggregate exactly at this stage of the tournament two seasons ago, this time they achieved it with more reasons to celebrate. Barca’s last week 2-1 victory at home against the Atletico that played with 10 men extremely intensified this rivalry for overwhelming expectations about the increased tactical complications to be played by both teams, apparently signaling the most challenging response the host had to provide to win the battle, which they indeed managed to produce an outstanding solution to achieve that at the end. their midfield composed of two combative and versatile central holding, charged by Augusto Fernandez and Gabi monitored the spaces between the line with their briefly sharp pressing Barca’s point of build-up passing from deep and persistently working to widen up the run of their wingers to raid on the spaces high up the pitch with pace and precision to punish their opponent’s suspected back line. practically playing with static back four in favor of effective full back support off the ball, the host ambitiously tracked more central areas, which defines as the vital core of Catalon’s engineering their possession catalyst and the idea soon disjoined Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets from wining spaces to free attacker’s run, passively switching the ball across the flanks in desperate hope of linking with their free lying play-maker Andres Iniesta, who significantly leapfrogged out of his position to far deep according to host’s timely backtracking and doubling press when the Spaniard attempted to drift in-out of the midfield. Atletico ultimately dictated the tempo of this intense match in reliance of their astonishing attackers whom provided a balance and flair to coordinate passing combination in transition, Antoin Griezmann and Saul Niguez constantly offered flash of creativity to hold on the ball with eye to spark break-through pace to combine with Carrasco in the middle of them to stretch out Pique and Mascherano partnership and exposing gap across the line. Griezzmann would be described as the star man on the night and over course of two legs with his movements and delightful interchanging with Niquez as both are fully skillful and incisive to break any opponents when becoming a dynamic wide strikers and having Koke to drift centrally, their attack triggered more enthusiasm to create chances and it was enough to dismantle the visitors. in contrary; the glorious showcase of Barcelona’s three magicians in MSN became sadly deficient as neither of them could ignited the sheer play of their extraordinary genius to inspire Luis Enrique’s men like how they had done by Suarez to win the first leg, instead they were forcibly shifted out wide by Atletico’s defensive mobility to find a break-through spaces, the more they desperately charging across their markers, the more their productivity to interchange fluid passing in seek of penetration vanished, sometimes it looked they played with false number nine as an extra attacking midfielder, seemingly without a target man up front. Atletico soon applied their sufficient strategy with reliable defensive pressing and inspirational attacking transition and scored the opener. in the 36th minutes Gabi’s sharply combination with Niquez on the right flank, offered space for the talented midfielder to send a fine out swing left-footed cross, which Griezmann positioned himself perfectly and rose high to flick a beautiful header into the near post and warned their visitor of facing a frustrating night once again in Vicente Calderon. in the 55th minutes a corner from the right troubled Barca as Fernandez pulled a header over the defense and Niguez glanced another one only to hit the post and waving off and Barca really suffered to maintain the top gear. the host applied a persistently combative and intense pressing-opening between the central areas of their defense and midfield to entirely dismantle Barcelona’s driving engine of possession tactic, while steadily vanishing the presence of MSN rhythm in attack according to work ethic and commitment of backline that marshaled by Diego Godin and intensified by versatile full backs in Juanfran and Filipe Luiz to close down all the spaces in the red zone. the strategy constantly disjointed Messi, Neymar and Suarez from their midfield and specially when Atletico ambitiously adapting to their high tempo attack, then it caused their opponent to be exposed on the counter attack as the second goal arrived to finish the contest. the repetitive pressing attempt of Atletico in its nearly last occasion exposed Barcelona in the midfield when Gabi picked Filipe Luiz in the open gap and the defender stormed forward with energy and with a delightful touch cutting inside Mascherano before his wide pass to Griezzman deflected off and blocked by Iniesta’s handball for a penalty. Griezmann converted his accurate shot from the spot despite Ter Stegen diving to direction of the ball and surely booked their passage to the semi-final. Luis Enrique’s desperate team narrowly them on the brink of pushing it to extra time through a controversial play in the last minute. Iniesta attempted cross on the edge of the box deflected off Godin hand to earn the visitor a free-kick despite TV replays suggesting the connection inside the box could be pointed out to a penalty spot. Messi sent his curling kick over the post and a moment later the Vicente Calderon celebrated their memorable victory at ultimate joy of the host’s gratified bench and to the tears of Catalon’s disappointment.
Atletico Madrid verdict: they truly deserved this play-off win against their fierce rival through a consistent and sharp pressing approach, resilient defensive commitment to shout down MSN and dictating the pace of attack in reliance of creative players like Antoine Grizzmann, Saul Niguez and Carrasco when switching to counter in a fluid and precise transition tactic. the role of Koke in coordinating passes from deep and Gabi winning spaces in front of defense of course was hugely considerable. Diego Simone once again defined his sheer coaching genius to read and outclass Barcelona, just like how he has done it in 2014 en rout to their final road. this time he applied a confident and sharp defensive strategy, but significantly enjoyed the victory to highly promising attacking movements with talented players at his disposal with so much balance and motivation.
Barcelona verdict: they fairly struggled to resolve the problematic high pace and transition strategy, which they are ultimately vulnerable to be punished on both historical and tactical point of view. after losing El Clasico on the Saturday night, their confidence took a major hit along with increased psychological pressured when facing the other Madrid side. it might be arguably observed that Barca lacked a real break-through game plan to overcome their rival’s intense and superb performance, but their defeats on both occasion, surface the beneath underlined their lack of reliable transparency and needed efficiency in all spectrum of pure football argument to adapt challenging their opponent’s strong tactical ideas and once again they ended a fraction short for their defensive fragility and punished that way. it seems their wonderful start to the season eventually have blown as their provision to establish another dominant time suddenly appeared flat and was crushed towards the end of season in the vital title deciding moments to signal a return of deep transitional challenge at the heart of Club’s football philosophy, in contrary to their last season’s trophy-laden campaign.