Jeremy Beren: Well, Kiyan, Zinedine Zidane hasn't received many plaudits for being a tactical genius, but his diamond formation worked wonders against Atlético Madrid in the first leg. What went so right last Tuesday?
Kiyan Sobhani: It's almost easier to spell out what didn't go right. The nitpicker looks at Casemiro as a liability, and considers the team lucky that Koke and Saul couldn't punish his inability to keep the ball consistently or not give it away without being pressured.
That was the most major thing, though, and it didn't cost Real Madrid one bit, and Casemiro was masked in an otherwise perfect night. Ronaldo put the team on his back, as he tends to do, Varane and Ramos were phenomenal in their distribution out of the back as well as being defensively staunch, and Isco was instrumental alongside Modric and Kroos to bind the team and control the tempo. The diamond is interesting because it's almost not a diamond at all. Isco roams across the horizontal plane and plays a huge role -- a role that saw him gassed after 70 minutes both against Atletico and Bayern. Then for Zidane to be able to bring on Asensio for him to ice the game is massive for the team, and quite frankly, to rub it in deeply, is pure spoiled opulence.
JB: I swear, I thought Asensio was going to score or create a fourth. Just not fair.
We've talked before about Isco and his strange role in this team that belies his obvious talent. Did he convince you in the first leg that he merits a spot in the XI next season? More importantly, do you think he convinced Zidane?
KS: Isco's done a lot this season to cement his place, even before last week. He's made a terrific leap. Until 2016, he was largely considered a very talented player who held on to the ball for far too long and tended to be a bit inconclusive. This season he's channeled that all. It's interesting that his real 'break out' game was against Atleti in the Calderon earlier this season. He tends to be a key figure that's needed to unlock Simeone's sealed defensive scheme.
It's never easy to understand what goes on in Zidane's brain. I understand women better, to be honest -- and I don't understand women at all. The obvious answer is 'yes, Isco has earned Zidane's trust', but it's still unclear what his plan for Isco -- along with Asensio and James -- is moving forward. But, to go back full circle, I think the answer is 'yes'.
JB: So, this is pretty much in the bag for Real Madrid, but how can they manage to screw it up? Give the more optimistic Atlético supporters reason to hope for a comeback from 3-0 down.
KS: I'm still dubious that Simeone would come out 'guns blazing' from the first minute, and I think that would be entirely justifiable. I think he would be fine with a conservative 1-0 at half-time. At that point, you would have to be locked in defensively, and nick a goal -- even if it's in the 43rd minute or something. That is an entirely more attainable remontada than if you were to open up early and concede a goal that would deflate the Calderon long before the cranes do it in the flesh.
Keeping Real Madrid off the score sheet has been impossible this season (though, eventually it will happen, and it may be tomorrow), and opening up from the first minute is not the best recipe to put a halt to that blitzing attack.
(Note: If you’d like to hear a lengthier discussion on how Atlético can come back from the dead, listen to Episode 6 of the Churros y Tácticas podcast with myself, Kiyan and Robbie Dunne.)
JB: This hasn't been the easiest season for Cristiano Ronaldo, as he's rested more and gone through inconsistent patches. But he has been dynamite for the past month, almost singlehandedly eliminating Bayern Munich and putting Atlético to the sword last week. Why has he all of a sudden decided to go on an Archer-esque rampage?
KS: I'm going to simplify this: because he's the GOAT. He is a statistical unicorn. He did this last season too in do-or-die matches, and he's done it over and over again. It's what separates the good from the goats. Sure, it helps that Zidane has managed his minutes too.
JB: As if the first leg wasn’t depressing enough, Theo Hernández reportedly completed a medical for Real Madrid on Monday, and it seems almost certain the 19-year-old will defect from Atlético this summer. I think the move could be disastrous from a sporting perspective and from a personal perspective, but you must be pretty excited about his impending arrival?
KS: If I detach myself from the inevitable deterioration of the relationship between these two clubs, I have to say I'm ecstatic. I've accidentally followed Theo all season, because I've followed Marcos Llorente all season too. I rave about Marcos nearly every week in my column, and had I known Theo (admittedly, signing him was a very unlikely scenario), I would have written about him too. I am a fan -- kid can ball.
JB: Nah, you ain’t. But that’s okay!
What's your prediction, frienemy?
KS: 2-3 Real Madrid.