The semi-finals of the Champions League beckon for Atlético Madrid, as two goals from Antoine Griezmann saw them knock-out holders Barcelona for the second time in three seasons.
It was an historic night in the Vicente Calderón, with the the fans roaring their team onto a memorable victory as Diego Simeone once again executed his game plan to perfection.
When Andres Iniesta flung his hand out to stop Filipe Luís’s pass to an unmarked Antoine Griezmann in the 86th minute, the thought that was in every Barça fans’ mind crept in for good – Atleti have out outplayed us and now our Champions League title defense is over.
Here's the handball that clinched Atleti's win https://t.co/w2Ihkm1uCd
— SB Nation Soccer (@SBNationSoccer) April 13, 2016
However, many other familiar thoughts flooded the minds of supporters on both sides. For example, after Neymar kicked out at Juanfran with less than 15 minutes left to play, many Atleti fans likely wondered if this error in discipline, that resulted in a yellow, would spill over to their side.
Yellow card for Neymar, who had a little kick out at Juanfran as the ball was running out of play.
— AtléticoFans (@AtleticoFans) April 13, 2016
That fear was warranted, for Fernando Torres was sent off early in the first-leg last week and their Brazilian left-back also saw the exit back in January’s Liga fixture. As a result, Diego Simeone made sure they didn’t come undone by their own-doing at the Vicente Calderón on Wednesday.
No, their ability to fall prey to over-tackling didn’t come to fruition this time around; they were determined to stick to their same old tune, but this time with a full squad for the whole 90 minutes. Yes, that same old tune was on full display in front of their home crowd, and they ate up the atmosphere to channel a great pressing masterclass in the opening half.
Los Rojiblancos came out in a 4-4-2 and their midfielders and forwards pressed high up early on. By running north-south and east-west, they left Barça’s backline and flank players to play Tennis with each other for five minute intervals. The middle of the pitch was a marathon race, and Luis Enrique’s men weren’t invited.
— Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) April 13, 2016
This hardworking masterclass would be rewarded, with 10 minutes left to play in the first, Saúl blasted a long ball to Griezmann who headed the beautiful effort right past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
EL GOLAZO DE GRIEZMANN A DELICIA DE SAÚL.https://t.co/TsDxFKEyaw
— Vines Atleti (@VinesATM) April 13, 2016
1-0 Atleti ended the first, and the way the Blaugrana came out in the second, it looked like they told themselves to step it up. As the 55th minute mark came around, you could tell Barcelona’s midfield went into overdrive.
‘MSN’ were suddenly getting more looks and their chances were becoming more creative. However, much like the first-leg, Barça realized only crosses and chips into the penalty area were as good as it was going to get, as Atleti started to sit deeper and narrower.
Stuck in their penalty trench, Simeone’s men kicked and headed out everything that came their way and thus showed the footy world the Argentine manager’s plan – give them the flanks and we’ll outsize them when the crosses come. It worked.
As good as Atlético were, for a brief moment in the 66th minute, Luis Suárez’s brilliance with little space came to light again. He received a ball with Diego Godín on him like a backpack, protected the ball, and turned, only to shoot it right at Oblak. Chance created, not executed.
‘MSN’ weren’t as clinical as they usually are, but a team isn’t only measured by their forwards, and the rest of Barcelona was subpar in their possession-style. Nonetheless, Atlético defended their hearts out and you couldn’t help but feel as though the ‘immovable object’ had finally beaten the ‘unstoppable force.’
— La Liga Gav (@LaLigaGav) April 13, 2016
Griezmann’s two goals were the difference on paper, but it was his side’s stone like presence that got them to open up Barça’s only weakness – if you can keep them out of your own net, the counter-attack is always your best bet. Easier said than done.
Atlético Madrid can now await their semi-final draw on Friday knowing that they beat the reigning Champions League title holders, and that is a good feeling going into any round in Europe’s Big Dance.