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Bayer Leverkusen 2-4 Atlético Madrid: Random observations

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Atlético take a six-goal thriller at BayArena and have one foot in the Champions League quarterfinals.

So, that happened. Turned out Manchester City-Monaco wasn’t the only crazy Champions League game on Tuesday night, as Atlético Madrid beat Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 to go one step closer to a fourth consecutive UCL quarterfinal appearance.

Below are some random thoughts from the gripping first leg of this Round of 16 tie:

  • Wow.
  • This is the first time Atlético have scored four in a Champions League game since the 4-0 win over Astana in last year’s group stage. Oliver Torres scored in that game. /sadface
  • This was very much a Quique Sanchez Flores/Gregorio Manzano performance. Open, chaotic, hectic, and as the match moved along, you got the feeling that Atleti had lost control and were just winging it (los colchoneros finished with just 38% possession, 12% lower than the team’s average in the group stage). It’s a decidedly different dynamic than that which Cholismo has come to be associated with, and it’s become more noticeable in recent games.
  • Bernd Leno is one of the best goalkeepers on the continent, and he conceded four for the first time all season. Not all his fault, to be fair; Aleksandar Dragovic had himself a mare at center back. He was turned inside out by Saúl Ñíguez for the first, failed to clear ahead of the second and brought down Kévin Gameiro for a penalty for the third.
  • Speaking of Saúl, he just loves scoring those curlers against German teams, eh?
  • Griezmann became Atlético’s all-time leading scorer in the Champions League with 13. His 25th minute goal placed him ahead of Luis Aragonés.
  • It was Gameiro who made that goal, burning the Bayer defense on the counterattack with some slick dribbling and a perfectly timed and weighted pass to his countryman, who finished with power under the crossbar.
  • Gameiro, by the way, was fantastic, even performing some sleight of foot when Dragovic took him down for the penalty. The foul was outside the box, but Gameiro made sure it looked very much like it was in the box.
  • And he scored a penalty! Down the middle! Where everyone should take them!
  • Atlético’s defense: not great. Karim Bellarabi’s goal was the result of some over-eager pressing near the box, which opened up space on the right-hand side for Benjamin Henrichs to cross to Bellarabi to slot home with ease. The second goal was a Kevin Volland cross from the left-hand side intended for Javier Hernández, but the ball pinballed off Miguel Ángel Moyá and Stefan Savić and into the goal. It was ruled a Savić own goal, which replay later confirmed, even as initially appeared that Chicharito got a touch on it.
  • Related: Simeone got away with starting Moyá and benching a now-fit Jan Oblak. It seems as if the plan is to have Oblak and Diego Godín ready to face Barcelona at the Calderón on Sunday.
  • Fernando Torres is on fire. He had been on the pitch eight minutes before heading home from a Šime Vrsaljko cross, against the run of play, to secure Atlético’s fourth and final away goal. It’s his fourth goal in five games across all competitions.
  • Gabi and Filipe Luís were both booked almost immediately after the Torres goal and will miss the return leg as a result. This is important, because it may have been intentional, a tactic from Simeone to wipe their books clean, so to speak, ahead of a prospective (now likely) quarterfinal tie.
  • Monaco may have lost that EIGHT goal thriller at City, but Radamel Falcao. He scored twice (and missed a pen; you can take the player out of Atleti, but you can’t...and so on). It was good. Happy tears, guys. Happy tears.