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Atletico Madrid Beat Bayern Munich By Keeping The Game Simple

Atletico Madrid have advanced to the 2016 Champions League final after defeating Bayern Munich on aggregate. Atletico Madrid won the first leg 1-0 at the Vicente Calderon and lost the second leg 2-1 at the Allianz Arena. Atleti striker Antoine Griezmann’s away goal in the second leg was enough to secure Atletico’s progression:

They say that football is a simple game and that it shouldn’t be played as anything else. Considering this, direct your attention to the end of the second leg.

The score was 2-2 on aggregate and Bayern had to score. They threw men forward. Franck Ribery found himself in space near the Atletico penalty spot as a cross was sent in. This is not a normal position for Ribery to be in, and for all the brilliance the Frenchmen had provided on the wing throughout the game, he froze when the ball landed at his feet. He controlled the ball well enough, but he didn’t shoot despite having enough space to do so. He turned back, passed, and Bayern had to recycle their attack.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that in that moment Ribery needed to shoot, but such was Atletico’s defense tonight, and such is the philosophy of Guardiola’s Bayern, that Ribery moved the ball because he didn’t have a perfect shot. He made the indirect play instead of the direct one, the complicated one instead of the simple one, and that theme was the difference in the match-up. 

Altetico Madrid, for all of their defensive acumen and tactical genius, play a simple game. A 4-4-2, in which the wingers are box-to-box midfielders and the strikers come back to help in midfield. They defend, and rely on direct counter attacks to score. They don’t chase the ball when they lose it, they regroup first, get into position, and then hunt it down in packs. Their game plan is always this, and it has now successively knocked two of the three highest profile teams in the world out of the Champions League. 

Atletico Madrid Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich players after the game. Photo: @LiviaLiviLiv | Twitter

Bayern Munich, for their part, did a lot, but not all of it was good. They had 73% of the ball and for periods in the game had the world’s best defense looking vulnerable. They had 33 shots, but 22 of those didn’t hit the target. They attacked in so many different ways, whipping balls into the box, dribbling at defenders on the wings, and taking shots from distance. But they made two critical mistakes: Thomas Muller missed a game-defining penalty, and Jerome Boateng suicidally chased a misplaced a pass and allowed the counter-attack that led to Griezmann’s match winning goal.

Altetico Madrid had much less of the ball and consequently did much less with it, but they also only made one critical mistake to Bayern’s two. Torres missed a penalty; it was almost a carbon copy of Muller’s miss.

These are the margins that separate victory and defeat at the highest level of soccer. When there is so little room for error, it shouldn’t be surprising that the team that sits back, absorbs pressure, and attacks with simplicity and directness can be successful.

The 2016 Champions League final will be Atletico Madrid’s second in three years. In those same three years, Pep Guardiola, the genius of attacking football and the mastermind of Bayern Munich, has failed to make the final once. Disciples of his style of football would criticize Atletico Madrid for it’s pragmatism, calling it negative, unambitious and boring. It’s easy to imagine what Atletico Madrid’s response would be: they simply wouldn’t care.

Follow me on Twitter: @yetly

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