That was great, wasn't it?
By great, of course, I mean nervy and gut-wrenching and invariably Atlético Madrid.
Atlético scored early then withstood wave after wave of Bayern Munich pressure to take the all-important clean sheet to Germany next week. Thoughts on a captivating battle at the Vicente Calderón:
- Atleti cranked up the tempo early and had three long attempts saved by Manuel Neuer inside 10 minutes. The incredible pre-match tifo ("Atleti yo te amo, contigo a la final" - "I love you Atleti, until the end") emboldened the team and put Bayern under pressure early.
- Saúl Ñíguez Esclápez. What a player. That goal should be a damn Puskàs nominee. The dribble past Xabi Alonso alone was filthy, and that far post finish off the post completely evaded Neuer. Incredible, absolutely incredible.
- Predictably, Bayern turned up the pressure towards the end of the half, but Augusto Fernández and Gabi were monstrous in breaking up play at midfield and near the box.
- Augusto was my MOTM, by the way. Relentless. Stupendous signing.
- Bayern began the second half with about 20 minutes of unrelenting pressure. Unlike Barcelona two weeks ago, Bayern were able to find hints of daylight behind the back four for a while, leading to a couple close calls. Douglas Costa was awfully good at finding the halfspace behind Filipe Luís until there were about 20 minutes to go.
- José Giménez and Stefan Savic (particularly the latter) did a masterful job on Robert Lewandowski. Completely cut off his support as the game moved along and Bayern became more desperate to score.
- David Alaba almost put that in from forever away. Jan Oblak had a little difficulty with the longer shots but still caught just about everything, including Javi Martínez's free header that was saved right on the line.
- I know that it looked at first like Fernando Torres should have scored, but after replay showed he played himself into a tough angle and he struck the shot with the outside of his boot. Would have been a remarkable goal. Koke should have done better with his chance just after.
- Speaking of Atleti's forwards, Antoine Griezmann may not have scored but he was great anyway. Phenomenal work rate. Dutifully tracked back, intercepted passes, started counters.
- Diego Simeone waited until the 84th minute to throw on Thomas Partey. He trusted his XI to get through that rough patch early in the second half, and they did. Pep Guardiola's change, on the other hand, did not find their footing. Franck Ribèry looked overmatched, Thomas Müller could not find space and Mehdi Benatia was booked for a terrible tackle on Koke.
- To Müller's credit, he headed down for Arturo Vidal deep into added time, but the Chilean could only shoot straight at Oblak.
- This clean sheet ensures Atleti will complete a second consecutive Champions League knockout stage without conceding at the Calderón. Last goal shipped at home after the group stage: March 11, 2014. Kaka scored it. In all Champions League home games under Simeone, Atleti are 13-3-1 with only four goals conceded.
- Atlético have won its last six ties against German opposition. The second leg will be an all-out war.
Rayo Vallecano are next, on Saturday.