Diego Simeone

RB Leipzig dumped Atlético Madrid out of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals following a 2-1 win in an amazing tie in Lisbon. It is the first-ever Champions League semi-final for the German club established in 2009.

Dani Olmo headed Leipzig into a well-deserved lead before João Félix equalised from the penalty spot with less than 20 minutes on the clock, Tyler Adams, another substitute, crashed in a deflected strike on the 88th minute to send the Leipzig contingent into a frenzy.

Julian Nagelsmann, the 33-year-old manager, got the better of Diego Simeone, a man whose team hadn’t been knocked out of the UCL by a team without Cristiano Ronaldo.

Atleti strangled Liverpool over two legs in the Round of 16 but they could find no way past a vibrant Leipzig side. With the Germans’ back three and counter-attacking style giving Atleti little of a sniff, Los Rojiblancos needed to step into a few extra gears in attack, especially knowing this was one winner-take-all tie. 

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Coincidentally, Atleti had embarked on a project last year for situations like exactly this, the games when they needed to show more as a big team. 

After the completion of the spectacular Wanda Metropolitano stadium, Simeone was handed a new contract in March 2019 followed by a €200M summer spending spree to rebuild the squad and perhaps add more attacking quality. In came the likes of João Félix, Kieran Trippier, Marcos Llorente and out went Diego Godín, Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernández, Rodri and Juanfran and they looked like kicking on. With talented midfielders like Thomas Partey, Saúl Ñíguez and Koke they were very capable of a proactive high-pressing system.

Atletico Madrid players
HUNTER HUNTED: Atletico Madrid couldn’t get past a well-drilled Leipzig side. (Getty Images)

In truth, Simeone has done a fantastic job of making Atleti a really tough side to beat over his nine years at the helm. Playing a defence-oriented approach to winning tough games, they broke the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain and became a force in Europe with two Europa League titles and two Champions League finals. 

Now, Atleti are a big European club but lesser teams have got the better of them when they have been blunt in Attack. They struggled with inconsistency as the new team developed and recorded too many draws (16) this season, languishing in sixth place until improved Post-lockdown form took them up to third.

In the first half at Estádio José Alvalade, Atleti’s strikers failed to exchange passes as Dayot Upamecano bossed proceedings with a complete performance at the centre of the back-three. The Spaniards seemed to lack a game plan when they had the ball in the opponent’s half, merely staying in the game till El Cholo’s customary 70th-minute game-changing substitutes.

Leipzig are a wonderful side and Nagglesmann deserves credit for their system and game plan, especially without top-scorer Timo Werner, who has moved to Chelsea.

Atleti must feel they underachieved this year, after an up-and-down league season and that adrenaline-boosting win over Liverpool, it felt like the lines would finally fall into pleasant places for them in the Champions League. They had the easier side of the draw, too.

Only 24 hours after PSG’s European experience and squad strength saw them shock Atalanta late to reach the semis, Atlético Madrid were poised to keep the script and show their pedigree. Indeed, their best performances are against the uber-attacking super teams.

It was supposed to be another Simeone Masterclass.

In the end, Leipzig are the underdogs of this season’s Champions League semifinal at the expense of Atlético who were meant to be the fairytale-enders. 

Perhaps, El Cholo has failed to evolve.


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.


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