How Atletico pulled off 0-0 draw with Real
The game may have ended goalless, but Atletico Madrid showed their mettle against mighty Real Madrid
ATLETICO MADRID 0
REAL MADRID 0
They toiled to a battling 0-0 draw with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie yesterday morning (Singapore time).
How did Atletico Madrid pull off the result against the defending champions and arch-rivals? There are five reasons...
1 Diego Simeone
There's no young manager more in demand in the business.
Simeone, 44, hasn't tried to reinvent the wheel at Atletico Madrid. What he has done is to get his players to simply do the tried-and-tested stuff better than their opponents.
And that's not to say Simeone isn't shrewd, because he is. He has a knack of applying the right tactics to nullify opponents, much like how he employed a defensive yet effective strategy to silence the Galacticos.
He takes a pragmatic approach, especially against the big teams, and gets his charges to grind out the results, not unlike Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.
But perhaps his biggest quality is his motivational skills, which explain why Atletico have been punching above their weight for four years now.
2 Tactical discipline
Atletico defended deep. They invited Real to come at them.
It might sound suicidal, but it worked because the Atletico garrison stuck to their drills from the first minute to the last. Rarely did the players, from defenders to attackers, stray from their sentries.
The ploy also drew Real deeper into their territory, and that in turn created vast amounts of space in Real's half to give Atletico's own direct counter-attacking play more bite.
The result was a compact, organised performance that looked immaculately choreographed. At no point during the game did Atletico seem to lose their defensive shape, even when in the first half Real's attackers were heaping an enormous amount of pressure on them.
Centre-backs Diego Godin and Miranda marshalled the rearguard superbly amid the chaos.
It might not be pleasing to the eye. But it got the job done.
3 Limiting the space
Atletico are a reactive team, and a highly successful one at that.
They didn't attempt to control the game with the ball. Instead, they ceded possession to Real and concentrated on clogging their supply routes.
Their first line of defence started from forwards Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann. Following them were two banks of four.
They left little space between the lines. They identified the danger areas and closed down on Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez once they encroached into their territory.
The idea was to stop the service to Real's famed BBC - Gareth BALE, Karim BENZEMA and CRISTIANO Ronaldo.
They were not afraid to use force to intimidate their opponents either, which explained their 19 fouls compared to Real's 11.
Perhaps Atletico's most underestimated quality is their mental strength.
No team pips Barcelona and Real, both operating on significantly bigger budgets, to the league championship without it.
Astonishingly, this 0-0 result stretches Atletico's unbeaten run against their rivals to seven games in all competitions, during which four of them ended in victories for the Rojiblancos.
Simeone once said of his players: "The bigger the challenge is, the more determined they are to achieve it. From the first moment I walked into the dressing room here I noticed that."
5 Real wastefulness
Real finished the game with 17 goal attempts (more than twice Atletico's) and eight shots on target (four times Atletico's).
They played better, created more goal-scoring chances and have home advantage in the return leg.
But they could neither get the away win nor score a vital away goal. Because Real's stars left their scoring boots at home.
Bale should have scored early in the game but he squandered his chance with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Rodriguez came close, while Benzema must be kicking himself for not going for goal himself after seeing his pass to Ronaldo intercepted by a defender.
No bite does not mean no ban
The Champions League battle of Madrid left Atletico Madrid striker Mario Mandzukic with a bloodied face and controversy over whether he was bitten by Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal.
Carvajal, 23, strongly denied even trying to bite the Croatian striker. But he could still face action for landing a punch at Mandzukic that the referee did not see.
The tie ended 0-0, but the spotlight was on the Carvajal-Mandzukic clash.
Battling in the penalty area, Mandzukic's arm was raised to hold back his rival.
As Carvajal moved round, his mouth came close to Mandzukic's arm and then he landed a punch in the striker's stomach.
Serbian referee Milorad Mazic was unsighted and Carvajal was extremely lucky not to concede a penalty for the punch.
But the images soon dominated social media and Carvajal, who could still face retroactive action by Uefa, was quick to react on his Twitter account.
"I saw after the game that I am accused of biting an opponent. I want to clarify that I have not bitten anyone, nor attempted to," he said.
Film from the mixed zone after the game, broadcast by Spanish channel Neox, showed a small cut on Mandzukic's arm. But there was no way of telling whether it was a cut.
The 28-year-old Croat had already been in the wars.
He was left with a bloody nose thanks to a stray elbow from Madrid defender Sergio Ramos.
Later, much to the relief of Carvajal and most surely, his team, Mandzukic backed the defender's denials of a bite.
"Yesterday's match was very hard and both teams gave everything, but for me there was no controversy, no bite, or anything," the Croatian striker said, a statement that surely will draw much praise from the sporting world for the honesty in which it was delivered to protect a fellow professional.
"We're all thinking about Saturday's match against Deportivo which is very important," Mandzukic added, trying to deflect the attention away from the bruising Champions League encounter.
While Mandzukic's comments will ease Carvajal's woes, he could still face action over the punch.
Carvajal's absence for the second leg next Thursday (Singapore time), if confirmed, would be a blow for Real.
They will already be without another key defender Marcelo, who reached his yellow card limit in the game.
Football bites have been a major talking point since Uruguayan Luis Suarez was banned from all football activity for four months last year, for sinking his teeth into Italian World Cup opponent Giorgio Chiellini.
When Real coach Carlo Ancelotti and his Atletico counterpart Diego Simeone were asked about the incident at their post-match news conference, both said they had not seen it. - Wire Services.
SUAREZ BLASTS REF...
Atletico Madrid's Mario Suarez, who is suspended for the return leg after he picked up a second yellow card in the goalless draw, hit out at the referee after the match.
"The referee was very bad.
"You can't have a Serbian in charge of a Champions League quarter-final. That isn't taking it seriously enough," Suarez fumed.
"I hope that in the second leg the referee will be better with more fluid and normal decisions.
"The referee wasn't up to it, but they made mistakes as we do." - Reuters.
THEN QUICKLY RETRACTS
The 28-year-old defensive midfielder quickly backtracked on his earlier comments on Twitter.
"I'd like to apologise if anyone was offended by my words after the match, that wasn't my intention," he said.
"I wanted to say that in a match of this magnitude you should designate a referee from a major league."
But his Brazilian teammate Miranda also said the referee for such a big game should not come from "a minor league". - Reuters.