Atlético Madrid’s symphony of suffering in Salzburg concluded with a victory on Wednesday night, as goals scored late in either half sealed progression to the Champions League’s last 16.
RBS XI Stanković; Kristensen, Ramalho, Wöber (Onguéné 90’), Ulmer; Junuzović, Mwepu (Sučić 89’), Szobosozlai (Okugawa 89’); Berisha; Daka (Okafor 73’), Koita (Adeyemi 79’)
ATM XI Oblak; Felipe, Savić, Hermoso; Koke, Saúl (Herrera 63’), Trippier, Carrasco (Lemar 89’); Llorente (Lodi 90’+1); Félix (Torreira 89’), Suárez (Correa 63’)
The game unfolded almost exactly as Diego Simeone hoped.
To this point, hard luck and misfortune had defined Atlético’s 2020/21 group stage. But a ball off the post in the second minute showed that script would flip in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthplace.
Mergim Berisha — who scored in the first meeting in Madrid and notched a brace against Lokomotiv Moscow last week — rolled a shot off the woodwork less than 120 seconds after kickoff. Yannick Carrasco had to hustle to usher the ball away from a beaten Jan Oblak. Dominik Szobosozlai should have tied the game in the 49th minute, but he ripped a shot wide from close range. Midfielder Enock Mwepu hit the outside of the post less than 15 minutes from time to complete a trifecta of misses for Jesse Marsch’s team.
These let-offs kept the objective in sight — a draw or a win to ensure progression. In the first half, Atlético were unable to match the hosts’ intensity, the tempo they pushed. Los colchoneros hovered around 60 percent passing accuracy for most of the opening 45.
But six minutes from halftime, Mario Hermoso headed the visitors into a lead they would not surrender.
Carrasco’s delivery was his first assist this season, and after the wind left Salzburg’s sails in the second half, the Belgian polished off a textbook counterattack to finish the job.
“The key today was not to concede a goal,” Carrasco explained post-game. “We have experienced players who can always score. The first goal was very important, it made everything easier.”
The win is just Atleti’s fourth away from home in the Champions League since Feb. 2017.
Yannick Carrasco’s importance to los rojiblancos is very much multi-faceted.
“Carrasco’s second half was fantastic,” Simeone said post-match. “He did great work and has to continue in this manner. His form can’t dip, because this is where he competes best, he’s very important.”
Music to my ears. Almost like a serenade. Carrasco’s wingback role with Belgium is now duplicated for Atlético. This is a really difficult role, one which simultaneously requires more action and quicker decision-making — and the 27-year-old is thriving in it.
Carrasco’s game has matured — his speed and dribbling are still there for all to see, but he has emerged as a prime dead-ball option and he’s running much more than in his first stint with Atleti. His new responsibilities within the team meld some new with some old.
Simeone’s side collectively reflected this idea-meshing on Wednesday. It lost the possession battle (58-42) and the shots battle (18-7), but reasserted itself defensively after halftime and caught a couple breaks to eliminate Red Bull Salzburg. Cholo played the waiting game, and he utilized his bench fully to help see out the result. This included inserting Ángel Correa to assist Carrasco’s 86th minute goal.
The last-16 draw is Monday.
Atlético and Real Madrid (next up, on Saturday) joined Barcelona and Sevilla in the knockouts on Wednesday. This means it’s time to present one of my favorite graphics.
Atleti are most likely to draw Borussia Dortmund or Juventus — two opponents from the 2018/19 Champions League campaign. A rematch with Liverpool is possible. Three years without playing Chelsea is simply much too long, is it not?