Atlético Slays Another Giant

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When Pep Guardiola took over Bayern Munich in 2013, fans almost immediately began fantasizing about European trebles year after year. The Spanish manager had won everything there is to win during his time with Barcelona, and Bayern had a squad that was arguably just as talented as the Catalan club. Unfortunately for Pep and the Bayern faithful, things haven’t quite gone to plan in Europe. In the last two years, the German club have been unable to make it past the Champions League semi-finals, and this year they were once again in danger of being eliminated in the final four. A narrow 1-0 loss to Atlético Madrid in the Spanish capital put Bayern in an awkward position going back to the Allianz Arena, but could they find a way to overcome their semi-final curse?

In the sixth minute, Gabi tested Manuel Neuer with a drive from nearly 40 yards out and the German keeper answered it with a fairly routine save. After Gabi’s shot, Bayern began to dominate proceedings as they chased a vital opening goal. Due to the away goal rule, if Atlético scored at all during the match, Bayern would need to win the match by at least two goals, so it was important to balance a powerful attack with conscious defensive decisions.

Despite their sustained pressure in the final third, Bayern just couldn’t find a way to test Jan Oblak as shot after shot failed to hit the target. In the 20th minute, an excellent run and lay-off from Thomas Müller set up Robert Lewandowski with a tight-angle shot. The Polish striker managed to direct his effort on goal, but Oblak was there to make a kick save.

On the half hour mark, David Alaba won a free kick right on the edge of the penalty area. Xabi Alonso was the man tasked with finding the back of the net and he did not disappoint. The former Real Madrid midfielder fired a low drive towards the far-post, but a deflection through the legs of José Giménez sent the ball right up the gut and left Oblak helpless in net. 1-0 Bayern.

Less than two minutes later, Bayern had the chance to double their lead and potentially send a dagger through the hearts of their visitors. During a corner kick, the official caught Giménez pulling down Javi Martínez in the box. Not a good series of events for the Uruguayan defender. Müller stepped up for the spot kick, and sent it towards Oblak’s right. Unfortunately for the German striker, Oblak guessed correctly and denied a less than stellar penalty kick, and then denied Xabi Alonso on the rebound.

Oblak’s penalty save sent the two sides into the half with Bayern up 1-0 in the match, but with the overall fixture deadlocked at 1-1 on aggregate. In the closing stages of the half, the Bavarian club looked ready to run rampant in the second 45 minutes, and Atlético would have considered themselves lucky to only be down by one goal. Who would come out to play in the second half?

In the 54th minute, Atlético got their vital away goal. As Jérôme Boateng surged up the field to chase a bad pass, the Spanish side took advantage of the open gaps in Bayern’s defense. A clinical through ball from Fernando Torres sprung Antoine Griezmann on a breakaway. The French striker showed the ice in his veins as he calmly slotted past Neuer to pull Atlético level on the day, and potentially to send them to the European final.

After Griezmann’s goal, Bayern now had just a little over half an hour to score twice against a stout Atlético defense. Similar to the first half, the German’s began to heavily press into the final third, but once again had trouble directing their shots on target. Even when Bayern did manage to put something on frame, Oblak’s positioning made each save look routine.

In the 74th minute, Bayern got a goal to make the final 15 minutes interesting. Arturo Vidal, who was in last year’s final with Juventus, did well to head David Alaba’s cross back across the face of goal. Waiting on the other end was a wide open Robert Lewandowski who was never going to miss an open net from less than six yards out. Lewandowski’s goal put Bayern ahead 2-1, but the hosts still needed one more goal to push them through to the final.

Just as Bayern began to look poised for a third goal, Atlético found themselves pressing at the other end. Fernando Torres made a darting run into the edge of the penalty area in the 83rd minute, but was brought down by his compatriot Javi Martínez. Replays seemed to indicate that the foul started outside of the 18-yard box but continued into the area, and a penalty kick was award. Torres stepped up for the spot kick and had the chance to put an end to any Bayern comeback. The Spanish striker’s penalty was nearly identical to Müller’s from the first half and ended in similar fashion as Neuer batted it away to keep Bayern’s hopes alive.

Bayern’s best chance to pull ahead came courtesy of David Alaba in the 88th minute. The Austrian strefender (Men in Blazer’s term for a “striker-defender”) got on the end of Fernando Torres’ attempted clearance from a corner kick. His shot ricochet off of Thomas on the edge of the penalty area and forced Oblak into a tricky diving save. Replays only made the save look more impressive as the Slovakian keeper was forced to readjust at the last second to deny Alaba’s strike and seal Atlético’s spot in the final.

When the final whistle blew, Bayern were ahead on the scoreboard, but Antoine Griezmann’s goal was enough to send his club to their second European final in three years. For Pep and Bayern, another Champions League came to an end without silverware. Now the question has to be whether or not Pep’s time in Munich will be remembered as a failure due to a lack of European success. Either way, Atlético’s Cinderella story in the tournament will continue onto the San Siro on May 28th.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.

 

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