Real Madrid met Atletico Madrid in the Champions league for the fourth time in four years. Their recent European Cup history (1-0 on aggregate in 2014, extra time in the 2015 final, and a shootout in 2016), combined with their La Liga leading 10 game forms led to the expectation of a tightly contested match.
Both teams opened in their favored formation with each side missing a key player (Gareth Bale for Real and Juanfran for Atletico):
Real opened up the game dominating possession, which seemed to be a part of Atletico’s gameplay (they average under 50% possession) but Real keyed in on their rival’s weakness, the loss of their first team RB. They shifted Isco to a more central advanced position with Ronaldo and Benzema sitting in front of him. Zidane also opted to send his fullbacks into highly advanced positions, trusting the pace of Varane and the holding play of Casemiro to man the trenches while Real overloaded the flanks. They ran continuously at their left flank, a tactic they would not deviate from the entire game:
Atletico’s attacking strategy was predicated, as usual, on forcing turnovers with their high press in the opponent’s half, which they did indeed accomplish to some degree:
However in comparison to their most recent Champions League match (against Leceister)
The quality of the Real defense in lack of turnovers resulted in an absolutely miserable set of chances created:
Breaking down the Goals
Cristiano Ronaldo (9’):
The scoring opener demonstrated a symptom of a symptom of Atletico’s weakness throughout the game. The sequence begins with a corner, which Real had three times as many more as Atletico. The initial ball, as well as the second ball, are met with black shirts but not dealt with fully. Conceding a significant number of corners is a good strategy against some teams, but against Real, with a superb aerial arsenal of Benzema, Varane, Ramos, and of course Ronaldo, it was just a game of probabilities. Ronaldo meets the cross with a clinical head and knocks in the first goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo (73’):
This goal has very little pure build up and a decent amount of chance involved. Marcelo, who as usual is in a highly advanced position sends in a ball to Benzema, who not for the first time, bumbles the touch and dumps it to Ronaldo. The ball takes a lucky bounce and Ronaldo first times it into the back of the net. This goal was pure magic by Ronaldo, he conjured a true banger out of a broken play.
Cristiano Ronaldo (86’):
This final nail in coffin was a counterattack in the mold of the classic Mourinho Real Madrid. Correa turns the ball over in Real’s defensive third and Casemiro immediately pounces. He sends it wide to Vazquez, who quickly moves it to Ronaldo. Ronaldo gives it back for the one two and drifts inside unmarked. Vazquez cuts it back to Ronaldo just outside the 6 yard box, who with utmost composure, slides in the ball.
Real Madrid opened up early but Atletico stayed true to their tactics, which allowed them a one on one opportunity midway through the first half. Unable to capitalize, Atletico threw men back on defense (often nine behind the ball) in order to stifle the Real onslaught. Caught out with Ronaldo’s second, they were forced to open up their formation, in order to pull a goal back for the second leg. This decision backfired as Ronaldo (the best player in Champions league history) exhibited his complete dominance to set the stage for yet another Real Madrid berth in the UEFA Champions league final with his 400th goal for the club.