Champions League Fans' Top 5: Atletico duo top the pile

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Each week, Sport360 will be bring you the best five players from the Champions League, as chosen by you the supporters through our ValoraFutbol fan ratings tool.

YOU have direct influence on who appears in each Top Five so be sure to rate each weekend.

SAUL NIGUEZ (Atletico Madrid) – 6.69

A memorable night for the Spanish under-21 international as his solo effort secured Atletico Madrid a precious 1-0 advantage over Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Saul collected the ball near the halfway line, skipped past four would-be defenders before unleashing a powerful shot to give Atletico the lead after 11 minutes.

Atletico will travel to Munich for the return leg next Tuesday looking to to reach their second final in three years and exact revenge for their defeat to Bayern in the 1974 final.

FILIPE LUIS (Atletico) – 6.64

The former Chelsea player displayed a voracious work-rate on and off the ball, containing Bayern sharpshooters Kingsley Coman and Philipp Lahm.

Luis created an opportunity for a second goal, whipping in a cleverly weighed cross that was met by Koke, but the ball was diverted out for a corner.

Diego Simeone will gain confidence from the strength Luis showed across the middle and his ability to cut off opposition key men.

GARETH BALE (Real Madrid) – 6.63

Bale failed to spark the same influence as Cristiano Ronaldo, but still proved to be effective as the game progressed.

The Welshman caused Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi lots of problems and completed an impressive nine take-ons and had five shots.

He kept pushing forward but failed to engineer the killer breakthrough to give Madrid the advantage.

PEPE (Real Madrid) – 6.52

The Portuguese star was immense for Real Madrid, despite his late miss when a goal seemed inevitable.

He made seven clearances and two interceptions and stepped up to underline why he is one of the most solid centre backs in the competition.

Los Blancos will need Pepe at his best in the return leg if they are to advance to a second final in three years.

Pepe.

Pepe.

JOE HART (Manchester City) – 6.43

The star of the night for Manchester City.

The England keeper stuck out his left boot to deflect away a header from Casemiro and moments later made a starfish-style block to prevent Pepe from snatching a late winner from point-blank range.

City’s first semi-final appearance in the competition was a let-down, but by preventing Madrid from notching an away goal the tie’s underdogs keep their hopes of reaching the final ahead of next week’s return leg at the Bernabeu.

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Bayern punished for slow start, admits Pep

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The German champions dominated possession, but struggled to create chances as Atletico held out for their 33rd clean sheet of the season to take a huge step towards their second final in three years.

“We had talked before the game about how Atletico tend to start well,” said Guardiola, who will leave Bayern to join Manchester City at the start of next season.

“It is not a great result for us. It is always unpleasant to have not scored an away goal, but we still have 90 minutes.”

Bayern also lost the first leg of their semi-final in Spain to Real Madrid and Barcelona in the previous two years of Guardiola’s tenure.


And despite being on the verge of a third German title in as many years in Munich, Guardiola’s men must turn the tide if he is to avoid the embarrassment of leaving for Manchester without having conquered Europe.








“In the Champions League you need to use the full 90 minutes, which we didn’t manage here and didn’t play well for the first 15 minutes.


“We have to play more intelligently in the return match, we need patience and we only need a goal to take the game to extra time.”






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#360view: Intelligence behind Atletico's rise to the top

Andy West 28/04/2016
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Winning between the ears: Atletico Madrid.

One of the many memorable moments of ‘Do I Not Like That’, the infamous 1990s documentary which gave an inside glimpse into Graham Taylor’s ill-fated spell as England boss, showed the exasperated manager berating his players for lacking composure at a crucial moment.

“Heads!” he bellowed and spluttered, purple with rage: “You play football with your heads!”

Although a squad containing Carlton Palmer and Andy Sinton probably wasn’t the best placed to heed his advice, Taylor was absolutely right.

As much as it is a game of kicking, running, tackling and jumping, football at the very highest level requires an enormous mental effort. It requires good decision-making; coolness under pressure; knowing your strengths and your limitations, and working together as a team to effectively implement a well-designed and clearly communicated game plan.

And if any team ever showcased a bulletproof collective ability to “play football with your heads”, it is surely Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. Let’s face it: there is no way Atletico should even be competing with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, never mind beating all of them – as they have done in the last two months alone.

On the basis of budget, reputation and talent, the best Atletico should really be hoping for is a decent league standing and an occasional cup run. Instead, here they are challenging hard – again – for the La Liga title and on the brink – again – of progressing into the Champions League final.

It is a ridiculous level of overachievement, and manager Simeone is rightly showered with plaudits for his ability to turn a good but not world-class squad into a team capable of consistently beating anyone.

Simeone, however, can only do so much. He can prepare his team with tactical precision, he can generate intense camaraderie and a sense of identity, and he can send his players onto the pitch confident in their ability to execute his plans. But, as the saying goes, once the players cross that white line the matter is largely out of his hands, and Atletico’s success comes down to how well they perform.

As much as anything, it comes down to how well they use their heads. On Wednesday night against Bayern, they were magnificent. Not magnificent in a ‘tearing the opposition apart with fancy dribbling and creative passing’ sense (aside from Saul’s outrageous goal, of course). Atletico don’t play that kind of game, because they know it is not their strength.

Instead, they do what they’re good at. They stay organised and disciplined, with every player knowing exactly where he should be positioned at any given moment and mentally committing to their collective aims.

You won’t see Atletico giving the ball away in dangerous positions with an over-elaborate clearance. They just get rid of the danger, hold their positions and wait for it to come back so they can get rid of it again.

They attack when the opportunity arises, but not to the extent that it leaves them vulnerable. They push up when they see the opposition can be harried, and otherwise they sit back and wait, calm and composed, trusting they will win by repeatedly doing the right thing at the right time.

Yes, Graham, you play football with your heads. Atletico Madrid do it better than anyone, and look how far it is taking them.

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