At his press conference before AS Monaco’s game against Atlético Madrid on Wednesday night in the Champions League, Thierry Henry, the French club’s short-suffering manager said he had been “studying him (Simeone) and Atletico for a long time.”
In a game that pitted a grizzled side versus one slightly more green, Diego Simeone offered a 90-minute tutorial with only a short break in between his teachings. While Atlético struggled to beat the French side earlier in the campaign and needed two late first half goals to come back from 1-0 down on that occasion, two early goals at the Wanda Metropolitano dispelled any notion of an upset this time around.
Lesson one consisted of the golden rule — don’t concede early against a sometimes cynical, mostly defensive side, with youngster Benoit Badiashile being the case study. Thomas Lemar swivelled and broke free before Monaco knew that they were in transition out of possession. The ball made its way to Rodri and then to Koke, who hesitated before sending a shot off the defender that caught keeper Diego Benaglio off guard.
Lemar’s shot from a free after seven minutes that drifted wide but looked like it was destined for the back of the net was another sign of things to come. It was apparent very early that this was going to be a long night for Henry, and his players even more so.
It was another move down the left that allowed Atlético to amplify their lead after 23 minutes. Antoine Griezmann played the ball to Ángel Correa, who spun and caused the defender to slip before he teed up Griezmann for an outside the boot finish. Monaco had players back but they were flailing as the Frenchman picked his spot.
This, however, was more than just teacher versus apprentice stuff. It was a matter of talent and Atlético were winning in that category by a mile. They had the advantage of experience on the bench and on the field with 17-year-old Han-Noah Massengo tasked with trying to stop Ballon d’Or hopeful Griezmann. Monaco had four teenagers in the team with two of those players legally not old enough to enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir with their post-match meal. They would finish the game with five teens on the field and six in total with playing time.
The only chance Monaco had in the first half that was on or off target came at the very end of the 45 when Griezmann tripped Golovin, got booked and Monaco were awarded a free. It curled in from the middle and Jemerson headed wide with Jan Oblak scrambling for all of a fraction of a second before realising where it was headed.
Vitolo came on both to give Koke a rest and to make his most significant contribution in terms of minutes for the season in the Champions League, his previous tally of nine minutes against Dortmund added to handsomely.
Radamel Falcao had two of the best chances of the half for Monac, with the first coming after an hour when he received the ball in the penalty area, turned and struck straight into Oblak’s hands. Shortly after that, Griezmann blazed over close to the near post after Correa put him through.
Atlético were happy to play the game out without ever wasting much more energy and never was that more obvious when Nikola Kalinić broke after 76 minutes with nobody around him and nobody looking to join in the attack either. But Monaco did improve as the mattress makers decided their work was done for the night.
From a corner, Thomas Partey wanted to get in on the act and he sent a missile towards Benaglio’s goal that forced a very good save from the keeper.
Despite the actionless nature of the game to that point, however, Stefan Savić still managed to get sent off. He was booked for a foul on Raggi in the second half before a handball that saw Monaco awarded a penalty, and that meant he was given his marching orders.
Falcao stepped up after getting a standing ovation when he entered the fray as a substitute, and he fired the penalty wide to endear himself further to the rojiblanco faithful.
Monaco had a flurry of chances after that, with Oblak saving to his leftt and tipping one over the crossbar.
It was, however, one of those night for Monaco with the damage done in those opening exchanges. It was a welcome development for Simeone with a tough trip to Girona around the corner and especially coming off the back of Barcelona’s visit to the Wanda Metropolitano.
For now though, Atlético are top of Group A and will fight to the end for that place with one last trip to Belgium on the cards in the sixth and final game of the Champions League group stages.