Atletico Madrid held Bayern Munich scoreless at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday and will take a 1-0 lead into next week’s second leg at the Allianz Arena. The match’s sole goal was an 11th minute effort from Atleti midfielder Saul. But what a goal it was!
The Spain international glided his way past four Bayern defenders on the way to curling the ball into the far corner past a sprawling Manuel Neuer. The goal was the sort of thing you’d expect to see from Lionel Messi against La Liga opposition, but this was against Bayern Munich, from a player who is technically a defensive midfielder.
Having taken the lead early, Atletico were able to impose their game on Bayern for most of the rest of the first half – sitting back, absorbing pressure, and hitting on the counter.
Bayern ratcheted things up in the second half and for a time, it looked as if Atleti might crack under the pressure. But as the clock ticked down, Bayern grew increasingly frustrated. With Pep Guardiola using all three of his substitutions in the second half, there was a sense that the Spanish tactician was throwing everything he had at Atletico.
However, as Atletico boss Diego Simeone had said in his pre-match comments, “The side with the most soldiers does not win, but those who use their soldiers better.”
Simeone seems to have got it exactly right in this case and for the second time in as many Champions League encounters, his team came out ahead against a team they were expected to lose to. They might have killed the tie off altogether if Fernando Torres’ explosive second half effort hadn’t rocketed off the post.
Guardiola meanwhile, finds his team on the precipice of being knocked out of Europe’s elite club competition by Spanish opposition for the third season running. Faced with questions about his tactics and team selection – mainly starting his team’s talisman Thomas Mueller on the bench – the former Barcelona boss has much to ponder before next week’s return leg in Munich.
For Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga is typically a foregone conclusion. The Catalan coach, regarded as the greatest attacking tactical innovator of his generation, was brought to Munich to do two things: get the team to play more attractive football; and win the Champions League.
While he has mostly succeeded in getting Bayern to play with more innovation and flair, if he fails to bring the European title back to Munich for the third successive season, he runs the risk of his time at Bayern being written off as something of a failure. While Bayern remain slight favorites to overcome the deficit and progress, when it comes to ties like these that are poised on a knife’s edge, others might give the advantage to the team that plays with the knife in their teeth.
You can catch the second leg of the tie as Bayern Munich host Atletico Madrid at the Allianz Arena, next Tuesday, May 3 at 2:45 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.