Atlético Madrid made it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League thanks to an instantly-iconic 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, which gave them a 2-1 aggregate win.
Renan Lodi’s header in the first half was enough to seal the victory, backed with a strong defensive display — though the Red Devils rarely tested the Colchoneros.
Ralf Rangnick ranted and raved post-match about Atlético’s style and “antics,” but it was almost expected coming from a German coach in the Premier League. For just like Jürgen Klopp two years ago, he had been outwitted and outclassed by Diego Simeone.
Here are three things we learned from the game.
It only takes a moment to win a tie
Look, let’s be honest. Atlético Madrid did not deserve to win this game. Just as Manchester United did not deserve to draw at the Wanda Metropolitano two weeks ago, Atlético robbed a victory at Old Trafford.
This was not a dominant performance from Atleti. It wasn’t even a convincing one. Atlético had only one shot inside the penalty box, compared to seven from Manchester United, and their xG was far lower at 0.52 compared to United’s 0.91.
But Atleti came out the winners. That’s because sometimes, just sometimes, it only takes a moment.
Atlético twice showed they were capable of producing such a moment. The first saw a João Félix strike ruled out for an offside from Marcos Llorente in the build-up, but it was a stunning team move from back to front which cut through United like a hot knife through butter.
The second was Lodi’s goal, a header at the far post with the same amount of quality movement and free-flowing runs and passing. It was another move that came down the right flank and ended with a far post finish.
Over the course of both legs, Atlético Madrid did deserve to progress to the next round more than Manchester United. Their first leg dominance was not rewarded by the result in the same way the second leg result did not reflect the uneasiness of Atleti’s defending.
But this was Cholismo in its purest form. Simeone got the best out of the 11 men he put out on the pitch, despite Luis Suárez being the only fully-fit first team option left on the bench. He made a strong, solid and reliable unit that got the sought-after result.
The British press and various Manchester United-related pundits may not have liked the manner in which Atleti did it, but it worked.
Renan Lodi is a man who lives for the big occasion
Osasuna at home last season. Manchester United away this season. This Brazilian is one of those players who just appears at the right time. Last season, that equaliser late on in the penultimate game of the season turned out to be worth a league title. This season, who knows...
Lodi is not a prolific player. In fact, he has only six goals to his name as his third season at the club is well underway. That’s worth a goal every 1,064 minutes.
However, in 2022, he’s averaging a goal every 180 minutes. In his new role as an attacking left-wing-back, he’s recording a goal every 106 minutes.
Lodi’s performance in the left-wing-back role in Manchester drew comparisons to the evolution of Marcos Llorente, which appeared at Anfield in 2020. Defensively disciplined, yet dynamic in attack, he looked the complete player.
The maturity he has developed of late is a sign of his growing confidence and the support he is getting from Simeone. Months ago, it would have been unimaginable for Simeone to start Lodi in a major Champions League tie. That’s why he failed to start a single game in the group stages.
His incredible growth and the change in his game is testament to Simeone. The work he has done to get the best out of the 23-year-old underlines why he is so highly-valued and rated, both by Atlético and across world football. His ability to turn an average player into a world-beater on big nights is how he has got Atlético competing at the highest levels.
Koke and Griezmann showed their leadership abilities
This was a game where Atlético needed leaders, and several key men stepped up. José María Giménez played through the pain and Jan Oblak was back to his best, but two who really stood out were the pair of friends Koke and Antoine Griezmann.
As captain, Koke’s performances have attracted great criticism in recent months, as injuries have disrupted his season and he’s failed to impress when available. He’s unbalanced the midfield and his role has been far from clear. His critics said he was only on the team-sheet because of his history and his relationship with Simeone and the club, not his quality.
At Old Trafford, he proved them wrong. No-one completed more recoveries than Koke, with four, and he had the second-highest number of actions on the ball at 33. Among those was the highest pass accuracy in the team, at 84 percent.
Clearly still not 100 percent fit, Koke was forced off with what looked like a recurrence of his injury, but you couldn’t tell until he was limping off the field. Nothing was stopping him from doing just about everything in midfield on Tuesday night.
The same was true of Griezmann. Fans sung his name at the end of the game for the first time since he returned to the club, and it’s easy to see why he won them over with his performance in Manchester.
Griezmann’s movement was second to none, crucial in the goal, and yet he was just as hard-working to drop deep and act as an additional midfielder to try to win the battle in the middle of the pitch. He also won four tackles and made eight recoveries, an impressive return for a forward. That work rate and energy is why Simeone is so keen on the Frenchman. It’s why he’s been able to win Atleti fans over once more.