Atletico Madrid face a stern test of their resilience on Wednesday as they aim to overturn a three-goal deficit against Real Madrid in the semi-final of the Champions League. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick at the Bernabeu has brought them on the verge of a fourth straight Champions League exit at the hands of their arch rivals. What’s even worse for the hosts is the return leg will be played in the backdrop of academy player Theo Hernandez, currently at loan at Alaves, alleged to have agreed a summer move to Real Madrid which would be one of the factors fuelling up this highly-anticipated clash. The other factor which should spice up this derby battle is the Vicente Calderon hosting its last European fixture as Atleti prepares to move into Wanda Metropolitano for the next season.
With so much at stake for Atletico, we come up with 3 ways they can produce a ‘Remontada’ of their own:
1. DITCH THE CAGEY STYLE
If Atletico are to avoid the embarrassment of yet another Champions League exit at the hands of their cross-town rivals, they must come out of the blocks quickly. Simeone, like Mourinho, prioritises precaution and sets up his teams on the counter especially for the big games. This tactic has done wonders for him in the past but it certainly didn’t last weekend as Real completely blew them off the pitch. And obviously, if Atletico remains true to type, they are never going to overcome the three-goal deficit. So it is high time Los Rojiblancos start on the front foot from the outset if they desire to bid a memorable farewell to Vicente Calderon.
2. GIVE REAL MADRID LESS TIME ON THE BALL
The main reason behind Los Blancos’ emphatic win at the Bernabeu was down to their seamless transition between the lines thanks to some slick passing. The trio of Casemiro-Modric-Kroos absolutely bossed the midfield without much trouble despite the fact that Atletico’s striking pair of Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro often dropped deep in order to congest the midfield and afford the hosts less space to operate. In between the trio, they attempted a total of 253 passes and completed a staggering 233 of them with a 92.1% success rate. Although Isco lasted for 68 minutes, he completed all but one of his 60 passes in that span. Contrary to expectations, the Spaniard occupied the hole behind Benzema and Ronaldo and his presence was vital in helping the hosts overrun Atletico in the midfield.
The ploy used by Zidane was indeed a tactical masterstroke and he could be employing it once more at the Calderon on Wednesday night. This is something Diego Simeone and his men will have to take care of if they harbour any intentions of restoring parity on aggregate at least. As aforementioned, ditching their typical cagey way of playing must be emphasized upon. Instead of playing the usual counter-attacking brand, Los Rojiblancos must enforce a counter-pressing or the ‘gegenpressing’ style in order to get back the ball as quickly as possible. Though this is easier said than done since Atletico players are more familiar with sitting deep rather than chasing opponents to win back possession, they must come out of their comfort zone for the sake of achieving the only major trophy that has been eluding them in the Simeone regime.
3. INSPIRATION FROM THE LAST DERBY WIN AT CALDERON
Atleti surprisingly haven’t won either of the last three Madrid derbies contested at the Calderon (W0 L1 D2). Coincidentally, this winless run began in the very competition as the two arch rivals played out a goalless stalemate in the first-leg of the 2014/15 Champions League quarter-finals. But a couple of months prior to it, Los Colchoneros did register a famous win as they put four past an insipid Real Madrid. In fact, the derby defeat was the heaviest suffered by Los Merengues in 28 years. Three of the four Atletico goalscorers on that day — Tiago, Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann who are still plying their trade at the club were the architects of that emphatic win. In all, a total of 6 first-teamers who are expected to take the field in the second-leg played a part in the historic win.
Atleti were so good on the day they allowed Real just two chances to have a crack at their goal but neither attempt found its way past Moya. Simeone might well play the recording of that match in front of his players just to inspire them. Though the two situations are in complete contrast to one another as Madrid were low on confidence back then, the fact that they have scored exactly the same number of goals which they need to on this occasion before may just be the tonic Atletico players need to raise their self-belief and confidence ahead of the game.