Atletico are two games away from Milan - the first of those two games is on Wednesday night. The Rojiblancos have reached their second semi-final in three years and this time the opponent is Bayern Munich. The Vicente Calderon will host the first leg of this monstrous duel and will be the center of attention of the entire football world for two hours, at least.
Guardiola-led Bayern Munich come to Madrid with the peace of mind that their domestic league title is almost in the bag and they are favorites in their third consecutive semi-final. The Spanish coach will have all his players available except for Arjen Robben and Holger Badstuber for injury reasons and Jerome Boateng and Sebastian Rode will undergo fitness tests before the game. The presence or absence of the German defender seems key to Bayern's defensive line as he is the only healthy natural centre in the squad, as Javi Martinez and David Alaba are not by trade central defenders.
"It's not revenge but a new opportunity"
That is what the Atletico Madrid manager said when asked if the memories from the 1974 final would add an extra motivation for his team. As some of you may know Atletico and Bayern Munich played in the "Cup of Europe" final in Brussels 32 years ago. Don Luis Aragonés made it 0-1 in the 23rd minute of extra-time (113') with a fabulous free kick, but the Germans leveled the scoreboard only six minutes later, just one minute before the final whistle. Back then, there were no penalties to decide games but a replay was called where the Colchoneros were defeated 4-0. Only one minute left to win the most important club title in the world. Plenty of fans have not forgotten that hurt and how the history of the club could have changed immeasurably on that night.
Cholo and his boys do not need extra motivation for such an important game. The manager holds the key to take his team into the game in an almost perfect state of mind, motivation and concentration. The goal of the squad has always been to outdo themselves and this is a new opportunity against one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Simeone always has a plan
If Guardiola showed us anything during the press conference before the match it is that he knows Atletico. Or at least that is what he thinks. The Munich coach told us several details about the Spanish team's game, which is unusual in this type of situation. It is well known that Pep is a great student of the tactics of his rivals, but we'll see if he is able to disarm Atleti. "Atletico does many things. Everything they do, they do well. Much more than just defend", this way he praised their virtues and understands the order of the task ahead over 180 minutes.
"The only trick we have prepared is to win," said Diego Simeone during his turn to answer at the press conference. Although the reporter's question was not about this kind of knack, we have to believe that Simeone lied and probably does have something up his sleeve. A tactical trick. In the same way the coach found a way to set a trap for Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Simeone could try to isolate the German team's attack, forcing their midfielders to give away possession in their half. At the end of the day, Bayern and Barcelona share certain traits in their playing styles. Both sides work the ball from the doorman to the front and the importance of their style lies in the midfield. We have no doubt that Simeone has something planned and this could be an area he fixates on.
The trap mentioned earlier was deployed for about 20 minutes but after the expulsion of Torres, Simeone decided to order a lower block and defend closer to Oblak. But in this case, this choice may be more dangerous because Bayern have the possibility of lateral crosses. Lewandowski and Muller are genuine specialists in the air and Douglas Costa can be very dominating, even overtaking double teams to produce world-class crosses for the two front men. Barcelona probably have the best forwards in the world but Bayern can beat you in different ways and it remains a speciality of theirs.
Augusto to be the anchor. Correa, the stimulus.
Regarding Atleti's starting XI, the possible absence of Carrasco could remove the surprise factor. The Belgian winger did not complete the last two training sessions at the same pace as the rest of the team and could be one of the two expected last minute omissions that Simeone will be forced into. Hence, Augusto could take the spot left by Yannick Carrasco to play the defensive midfield role that he has filled in in several games since he signed for Atleti.
The Argentinian would be the anchor of the team, that key player to hold the midfield, intercepting opponent passes, helping with pressure and holding and distributing the ball when attacking. Gabi and Saúl would play wider, helping the back wingers while defending and, particularly Saul, appearing in the opponent's area when Atletico attack. Thus, we could see that improved version of Koke playing in a central position in order to exploit his ability to find spaces with long balls to take advantage of the speed of Griezmann and Torres.
Meanwhile, in principle, the only unknown is in the center of defense. The unlucky absence of Diego Godín will force the manager to play this hugely important game with an experimental couple of central defenders. Lucas has regularly played in recent games, showing a confidence and maturity unbecoming of a player of his age. However, a couple formed by Gimenez and Savic could be more powerful in aerial duels in order to try to counter the power of Lewandowski and Muller in this regard.
Possible XI: Oblak; Juanfran, Savic (?), Lucas, Filipe Luis; Augusto, Gabi, Saúl, Koke; Griezmann, Torres.
In: Oblak, Moyá, Giménez, Savic, Lucas, Filipe, Juanfran, Gámez, Kranevitter, Augusto, Gabi, Koke, Saúl, Thomas, Óliver, Carrasco, Correa, Griezmann, Vietto, Torres.
Out: Godín and Tiago (injury). Two last minute discards pending.