Exactly 40 years, in the 1974 final, the football fraternity was shocked in utter disbelief as West Germany lifted the Jules Rimet trophy beating Netherlands by 2-1 in an epic final at the Olympiastadion in Munich. Nothing so haunted has been seen on a football pitch since the blood drained from Johan Cruyff’s face at the end. It can be a painful business, this game. But Diego Simeone you are a worthy winner, second to none! My Facebook status was doing quite well in terms of ‘likes’ received.
The La Decima has been achieved and Real Madrid’s obsession for the coveted Champions League trophy ends with a picnic party in the south coast of Europe in the architectural city of Lisbon. Perhaps it was written in the stars for Cristiano Ronaldo and his merry brand of men. Yet after the epic, eccentric or wild final, any way you can frame it, Atletico Madrid perhaps didn’t deserve to lose. But as the saying goes, you aren’t winners even if you are two minutes close to scripting a fairytale: ‘Whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Sergio Ramos perhaps epitomizes the notion like no other and as the Rojiblancos came precariously close, the Galacticos grew in stature to sieze what had been coming in quite some time. The 4-1 scoreline was too harsh if not cruel on Gabi and co, who have the parsimonious defense in Spain, but the trophy which was destined to the ‘lesser’ part of Madrid was finally packed to be shipped off to Bernebeu. Enough of sympathy, let’s get down straight to business on the tactical analysis of the final which will be etched in mind for years to come.
Real 4-1 Atletico: tactical Analysis
Simeone took a huge gamble to hand Diego Costa the start but as Gary Neville rightly said after his 8 minute show, “You can recover from a hamstring in just 7 days.”
Atletico’s strategy was simple, maintain a compact form off the ball, cut down spaces on the wings, allow Bale and Ronaldo no room to turn and hit Real on the counter. Just after the team sheets were brought into the fray, I posted in Twitter: “This has all the ingredients for an anti tiki-taka final tactically, Atletico wont allow space to Real at all like the way they broke in counters against Bayern, both sides will be happier without the ball (Simeone’s men have the ninth highest possession count in the LA Liga this season). Real would obviously miss Xabi Alonso, the Spaniard who missed out thanks to a suspension, his replacement being Tunisian born German Sami Khedira, the Champions League is truly global. Angel Di Maria would slot in as carillero, shuttling up and down in transition while Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema led the attacking jigsaw, Luca Modric deployed as a carrier.
Atletico very compact off the ball, ruthless in tackling:
Simeone’s game plan and approach was pivotal to Atletico’s off the ball discipline. They chased, harried the Real players all over the pitch and were ruthless in tackling. Juanfran and Felipe Luis were extraordinary, as Gary Neville on Sky Sports pointed out, a better full back to auxiliary centre backs hasn’t been depicted in the game for quite some time.
The Xabi Alonso-esque passing was certainly missed as it added extra responsibility on Luca Modric, the Croatian who wasn’t allowed any time on the ball. Sami Khedira was at best non existent, his lack of match fitness time and again exposed.
As noted in pre match analysis, “a precise through ball or a lofted ball which could open up spaces for the front men was where the absence of Alonso would be felt keenly and it was.”
As the above snap shows, they hardly allowed time to Ronaldo simply no time, did the same on Bale and it truly depicts the work rate of the players that Simeone has instilled. Frugal chances were on offer but Bale should have opened the scoring in 32nd minute thanks to Thiago’s sloppy give away but Miranda did brilliant to get back as the Welshman saw his shot agonizingly close. Diego Godin then scored the opener to send Atletico fans to delirium as the Uruguayan out jumped the ineffective Khedira but Casillas came out for no reason as the looping header enveloped its way at the back of the net.
Gabi is the epitome of the Rojiblancos:
I remember it was Rafa Benitez who was the propagator of his players being firs to every second balls on the pitch, a vital tool to recycle possession. Atletico did the same with their narrow midfield, were first to every underweighted pass, strong in 50-50 challenges with Koke and Raul Garcia continuously staying narrow and also maintaining an optimal distance to make room for slick and short passes.
The 30 year old Spaniard who vowed to win the trophy for the late Luis Aragones would be devastated after such an exemplary performance (My man of the match). Not only did he and Raul Garcia block of Di Maria time and again, the Argentine who inexplicably tried to pick out the front three with crosses from the deep.
However, it was only a matter of time before Real, who were persistently knocking at the door, would play with 9 men on Atletcio’s half as Simeone’s men explicably grew tired after what has been a grueling season.
As spaces opened up, Luca Modric stamped his authority on the match and the introduction of Isco in place of Khedira opened the game up. Atletico did brilliantly to absorb all the pressure and David Villa’s willingness to chase for the lost cause sums up that there are more to a 32 year old’s legs rather than just being a spectator. Villa highlighted Atlético’s togetherness with a tireless performance up front and even though he didn’t see much of the ball, his pressing unsettled Madrid’s defense.
Sergio Ramos of all people inevitably scored, his third in two of the biggest matches of his life and from extra time it was the growing presence of Di Maria who made the difference. The Argentine who has impeccably grown this season under Ancelotti, will be indispensible for the La Albiceleste in Brazil, he was the only Real player who could beat three opposition players and even though his shot was miraculously saved by Courtois, the ball looped up for Bale, who headed home into an open net.
Read Sid Lowe take on:
The carillero role which Di Maria has played in this season, means to shuttle up and down drifting into a more central role has been a masterful aplomb in Ancelotti’s first season at Bernebeu, the cool and calm Italian, joining the legendary of Bob Plaisey to win THE European Cup thrice in the career, twice with Milan in 2003 and 2007 and now the Decima with Real, Fiorentine Perez overlooking the proceedings in the stands as late goals from Marcelo and Ronaldo’s spot kick gave Real jubilation, ecstasy and joy unheralded.
What does this mean for both sides:
Diego Simeone as he revealed in his post match conference said that he wouldn’t shed tears on the heartbreak. “This match doesn’t deserve a single tear,” said the Argentine. When you give everything you cannot ask for more. There is another team and other players out there and that is football.
“Now we have to rest, relax and prepare ourselves to compete and bother the big teams again next season. It is part of the game.”
“You can win, or you can lose and today it is our turn to lose but at least knowing that we have given it everything. This will make us better. It gives us the chance to keep improving and now the rest of the world knows that Atletico can compete”
For Real, the obsession is over and their eyes will surely be now on the La Liga title next season after a double this campaign, but as we close the book on what has been a great season in the Champions League, the next version would perhaps be even better. For football is all about expectations, Atletico didn’t lose, weren’t runners up, just on the day they were second best for 32 minutes after having a hand on the trophy for 93 minutes. Football is a cruel business!
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