Score: Real 1 - Athletico 0
*See below for formations
This Champions League Quarterfinal game was an intriguing one because it was not only was it a major Spanish rivalry but it was also a rematch of last year's Final. The first leg was certainly intense and both teams showed they had little problem mixing it up. Something tells me Sergio Ramos really does not like Athletico.
The intensity and physicality in first half of this second leg picked up where the first leg left off. I think though that Athletico was content with a stop-start type of game. This meant that Real would dominate the game significantly less in fluid possession. A tactical foul (although some committed by Turan seemed ill intended) meant that Athletico could re-group and catch their breath. The more breaks a defensive team gets the more beneficial it is to them because constant defensive work is very tiring!
Athletico would be disappointed not to get Griezmann and Mandzukic more involved when they did have possession. They weren’t able to connect with them too much, let alone spring them free towards goal. Athletico however would be pleased with their defensive effort and work-rate. One of their strengths is their aerial ability and they effectively stopped the crosses that Herendez loves to poach off of. It really was not the type of game for Chicarito who is effective in finding space behind the back line. Since Athletico set-up in a low-pressure defensive shell, there really wasn’t any space in behind them. When there was space, Athletico was able to deal with it in the air.
I thought Real looked most dangerous when they won the ball in Athletico's own half. By winning the ball back further up the field it did not let Athletico get into their shape and Real could exploit them quickly. The best chance came from this exactly, however Ronaldo failed to be his usual ruthless self.
At the start of the 2nd half, Chicarito immediately did find that little bit of space in behind Athletico’s backline but squandered the chance! It is evident that even the top-class strikers suffer from being rusty and can lack game-sharpness. Athletico continued to set their line of confrontation 5-10 yards inside their own half. However, even though Athletico continued to sit-in, Real had to be careful not to get caught out because if they let up just one goal they would have to respond with scoring two to go through. Real had to continue a fine balance between pushing the game offensively, but still being disciplined defensively.
Finally, Ronaldo proved to be the margin of victory. His individual effort on the ball and then burst off the ball into the box was class. Even though Athletico is so solid defensively, they are still somewhat always vulnerable when the opposition has an individual world-class star. You can be excellent defensively for an entire game, but that world-class player is still always able to make something brilliant spontaneously. Ronaldo is so good that he can create one special moment after a game-long defensive blanket by Athletico At the highest level it is virtually impossible to give the opposition zero chances. That is the risk you take when your strategy is to be a ‘sponge’ defensively.
4-2-3-1 (Ronaldo and Rodriguez switching) 4-4-2