The first leg of the second match in the 2016 edition of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals will see FC Bayern Munich take on Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon tonight. Going into this match, the confidence levels in the Atletico camp must surely be high as they caused a major upset by knocking out strong favourites Barcelona in the quarter-finals. Bayern Munich, on the other hand, entered the semis in a not-so-emphatic fashion, defeating Benfica by a whisker.
Atletico Madrid’s defense is the major reason why they are still in the race for both La Liga and the UCL. They have conceded just 16 goals in La Liga so far this season and Jan Oblak has kept a club-record 22 clean sheets this season. The defense has been strengthened because of the support provided by the Atleti midfield, which, apart from protecting the back-four, allows the wing-back pair of Juanfran and Felipe Luis to run the flanks. Bayern Munich too, have been miserly in terms of giving away goals, as they have conceded merely 14 goals in the Bundesliga so far this season. However, they have struggled against quality pressing football, as was made evident by Manuel Neuer’s blunders against Juventus and Benfica. Both teams have been dealt a heavy blow as Diego Godin and Jerome Boateng will not be playing tonight due to injury.
Diego Simeone has employed an out of the box tactic of packing the central part of the field with Gabi, Fernandez, Saul Niguez and Koke. This has resulted in the opposition team being forced to go wide onthe pitch. This tactic proved to be a masterstroke against Barcelona, who are hardly known for their wing-play. But Diego Simeone should have realized by now that, against Bayern, this tactic could lead Atletico to their doom, courtesy of the wingers that Pep Guardiola has at his disposal. Even in the absence of the full-back destroying pair of Ribery and Robben, Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman have ensured that Bayern’s wing-play is consummate. Guardiola will also be hoping that the veteran Xabi Alonso and the skillful Thiago Alcantara can counter Atletico’s narrow midfield. Arturo Vidal is also a brilliant operator in the midfield.
Atletico Madrid have not been as prolific in front of the goal as compared to their German counterparts. Atletico have scored 59 and 14 goals in the La Liga and UCL respectively, while Bayern have scored 74 in the Bundesliga and 28 in the UCL. However, Bayern will have to come up with a plan to contain Antoine Griezmann, who has the uncanny ability of scoring the opener and has done it more times than anyone else in Spain. Torres has also found his old goal-scoring self at the right time. For Bayern, the likes of Lewandowski, who leads their scoring charts, Mueller and Goetze will be the key players in front of goal.
Atletico Madrid is one of the most under-rated clubs among Europe’s heavyweights whereas Bayern Munich have almost always been strong favourites to win the elite competition since the tournament’s inception. Though the Bavarians seem invincible on paper, Atleti’s dark horse reputation should make this face-off, which has never happened before, an enthralling one.