Since their first leg loss to Atleti, Bayer Leverkusen has been in free-fall, sacking their manager and not winning since. Atleti have been in somewhat of a resurgence, but needed to remain vigilant to advance from this tie, something they have done all 20 times in European competition after having won an away first leg.
Because of notable absences for Los Colchoneros, the starting 11 was somewhat unusual. Lucas Hernandez and Thomas were recalled to the lineup for the suspended Felipe and Gabi, while Ángel Correa was preferred to Fernando Torres or Nico Gaitán, both of whom were on the bench. After suffering a broken nose against Granada, Stefan Savic was dropped in favor of José Giménez, who impressed in midfield at Los Carmenés.
Atlético Madrid was in their usual 4-4-2, with Koke and Carrasco on the wings and Thomas and Saúl as the pivot. With Griezmann and Correa up front, Atleti had lots of speed to counter attack with, if lacking a bit physically.
Throughout, Diego Godín was imperious at the back, wearing the armband in Gabi’s absence. Having a central defender of Godín’s quality is truly invaluable, and provides so much security for Atlético.
The referee was stern, rarely blowing for free kicks, and not issuing a booking until the 63rd minute, when Tin Jedvaj was booked. This style of refereeing definitely benefits Atlético’s playing style, and overall his decisions were quite good.
In the first half, Atleti were reserved and not very adventurous going forward, as one would expect of a team with the hefty advantage Atleti held. This is not to say, however that there were not chances, as without Bernd Leno, Atlético could have been either one or two goals ahead before halftime. Ángel Correa had a great chance saved down low to Leno’s left which he took as well as he could, but was denied. Minutes later, Koke followed up with a long distance, low, cross-goal shot that was turned behind by Leno.
At halftime, a stalemate was just fine for Atleti, who could take confidence in the chances they had created in the first half. Leverkusen had yet to test Jan Oblak in the Atleti goal, shooting off target several times, but not creating any clear-cut chances. Griezmann was noticeably quiet in the first half, with his strike partner Correa having the better of the chances and more of the ball.
As the second half kicked off, Atleti’s task was simply to keep a clean sheet and they would progress, which they duly did. The biggest moment of the second half was a triple save from Jan Oblak on Julian Brandt, and Kevin Volland, truly sensational goalkeeping from a world-class goalkeeper. Oblak stole the show as Atleti had a few chances on the counter, but for the most part sat back, defending their first-leg lead.
Leverkusen was much improved in the second half, but they had to be as they chased the tie. Atleti’s substitutions were to bring on Gaitan for Correa and Savic for Carrasco as Atleti held on to their result. Kevin Kampl in particular in this game was tireless, chasing dead-end balls and running Leverkusen’s midfield. He’s been linked with an Atleti move recently, and put on a good show for Simeone and looked a player that would mesh well in Atleti’s team.
Though a 0-0 draw, it was the perfect performance by Atleti, who once again demonstrated their ability to hold on to a first leg lead and maintain a result, of huge importance in the Champions League. Over the two legs, the result was more than deserved, and had they needed any goals this game, it seemed they could have gotten them, they just put in an astute performance to seal their safe passage to the club’s fourth straight quarterfinal.
MMOTM: Jan Oblak
Notable Performances: Diego Godín, Šime Vrsaljko.