Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Roma: Five things we learned as Atleti keep their European dream alive

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Before the game had even started, Atletico Madrid knew nothing but a win would do. Chelsea had hammered Qarabag 4-0 in their fifth game to move onto 10 points, seven clear of Atleti with just six points left to collect. Their opponents for the night in Roma sat in second with eight points, meaning a win would pile the pressure on the Italian side going into their final group game. Of course, Roma are to play minnows Qarabag at home in their last game, but the Spanish outfit would hope that the pressure would get to them.

The first-half was a largely open affair that saw chances for both sides. Of course, there were no goals in the opening 45, but as the game wore on, Atletico Madrid grew stronger, and Koke had a number of chances to score. Augusto Fernandez did get the ball into the back of the net, but it was disallowed for handball.

Radja Nainggolan hit the post with a cross-come-shot, however, the home side were spurred on by their fans, and Antoine Griezmann got them on their feet with a sublime overhead kick, before he played a superb ball into Kevin Gameiro who rounded the goalkeeper to fire home from a tight angle.

Of course, it remains advantage Roma going into the final game, but it was the first time Atleti had scored two goals in a game since the end of September. While it might not be enough to save their Champions League season, it could be the win that ignites their campaign elsewhere.

From Atleti’s win, what five things did we learn?

Atleti live to fight another day  

The game opened with some uncharacteristically shaky defending from the home side as a frantic opening 15 minutes unfolded. However, they settled into the game and ended up as the better of the two sides. The 2-0 scoreline did not flatter Atletico as they pressed and created the better of the chances. Griezman and Gameiro scored the goals that have kept their team in the competition, even if it is by their fingertips.

It was a must-win for Diego Simeone’s men, and the pressure didn’t seem to get to them as they were very good on the night. Of course, the odds are still stacked against the Spanish side, but they will have taken huge confidence from their win.

With just one game to go, Chelsea have 10 points and are safely through to the next round. Roma are in second with eight points, while Atleti are one place further back with six points. The Spanish side travel to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea in their last game, while Roma host minnows Qarabag. While many will say that it is a foregone conclusion that Roma will win, stranger things have happened in football than a favourite slipping up.

Regardless of what happens next week, the fans will be glad to see their side rediscover their form and take their campaign to the last game at least. Atleti are still in the group courtesy of their win on Wednesday, and whether they go out or not, their win against Roma may just prove to be the start of their season.

Atleti have the better of a goalless first-half

After their awful 0-0 draw with Real Madrid at the weekend, Diego Simeone and his men needed to put in a big performance, or their Champions League dream would end before the group-stages had reached its final game.

The first 45 proved to be an open affair, with both teams looking to get forward. The two traded blows in the early stages, and the visitors had the best chance in the opening portion of the game as Yannick Carrasco repaid the faith his manager put in him by making a vital block in front of goal.

Following this, Atleti settling into the game came in conjunction with Roma beginning to sit back. This saw the Spanish side carve out a number of chances for the likes of Koke, Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres, but there was to be no goal.

However, Atleti did get the ball into the back of the net, but it was disallowed. Augusto Fernandez was adjudged to have handled the ball before he took a touch and fired in a deflected strike that saw most of the stadium rise in celebration. From the replays, it was hardly the most obvious of handballs, but it seemed as though the referee had gotten it right.

Regardless of the lack of goals in the first-half, it was a promising opening for the Spanish side.

Koke spurns glorious chances

These days, midfielders are expected to do pretty much everything, from defending to attacking, and they are often the players to come up with huge goals or goal-saving tackles in the biggest games. As biggest games go, this was one of them. If Atleti were to lose, they were out, it was as simple as that.

The first-half was far more open than many thought it would be, with both sides renowned for their defensive qualities despite their ability going forward. Chances came and went though, and the home fans should have been treated to a goal to see them go in front, but the ball unfortunately fell to the wrong man twice.

First of all, Filipe Luis picked out midfielder Koke with a superbly weighted cross that was placed on the head of the centre-midfielder, but he could only fire his header straight at Alisson in goal. His second was an even better chance as Luis once again fired in a driven ball that was missed by Griezmann, and Koke could not apply any sort of touch with the goal at his mercy.

Nights are won and lost on moments like that, and Koke is fortunate Griezmann had his goalscoring boots on.

Form is temporary, class is permanent

This one was always going to need one of the big players to step up and take a chance, and it was Atleti’s best player that did that. Antoine Griezmann was subjected to huge criticism before the game, and he was booed by his own fans after the Madrid derby on Saturday.

The game seemed to once again be passing him by as the chances that came for his team did not fall for him. His goal drought threatened to be extending, but the Frenchman displayed his class with a sublime strike.

Angel Correa showed great speed and dedication to chase down a lofted through-ball to fire a cross back into the box. Griezmann was waiting and, after back peddling, he swivelled and jumped into the air to let a sweetly struck overhead kick fly into the back of the net.

The relief was not just obvious on the face of the scorer. His teammates sprinted over to him to celebrate with Simeone in classic exuberant celebration, while the stadium erupted as their talisman finally rediscovered his scoring touch.

Roma now face a nervy game against Qarabag

Roma struggled on the night as the intensity of Atleti eventually told. Despite the away side introducing a number of attacking players to try to save the game, they created very little. Indeed, Atleti fully deserved the win as they outplayed their opponents and, most importantly, took their chances.

It was a surprisingly insipid performance from the Italians who had only lost one of their last 14 games, which was against unbeaten Napoli in a 1-0 loss. However, a defeat to Atleti means that they must now win their next game against Qarabag.

While this may sound like a relatively easy assignment, the group minnows managed to hold Atletico both home and away, and they would like nothing more than to ruin the party in Italy with a shock result. To make matters worse for the away side, right-back Bruno Peres was sent off for a second yellow late on, meaning he will miss the clash.

All of the pressure will be on the Italians in the last game of the group stage as they are expected to easily beat their opponents. However, even the best teams can crumble under the pressure, and elimination from the competition will not be tolerated after the Italians had managed to work their way to the top of the group with just two games left to play.

Atletico Madrid: Oblak 6 – Luis 7.5, Lucas 7, Gimenez 7, Thomas 7 – Carrasco 8 (Gameiro 7.5), Saul 7, Augusto 7 (Correa 7.5), Koke 6 (Gabi 7) – Griezmann 8, Torres 7.

Unused substitutes: Moya, Godin, Gaitan, Vietto.

Roma: Alisson 6 – Kolarov 6.5, Fazio 7, Manolas 7, Peres 5 – Pellegrini 6 (Strootman 5.5), Gonalons 5 (El Shaarawy 5), Nainggolan 6.5 – Perotti 6, Dzeko 5, Gerson 5 (Defrel 5).

Unused substitutes: Nunes Jesus, Moreno, De Rossi, Skorupski.

Referee: Bjorn Kuipers.


Benjamin Darvill

Ben is an English and creative writing graduate that is now working his way up in the world of sports journalism. Having been writing for the last four years, Ben has written for a number of websites specialising in sport, with football a particular passion. He is a long-suffering England fan and eternal optimist when it comes to the Three Lions.



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