MADRID, SPAIN – The atmosphere was electric at the Calderon for the Champions League semi-final match between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich. I am proud to say I was there, screaming along with thousands of other Atleti fans, twirling my scarf and adding my voice to the sound of support.
For any supporter of a team they love, being in it with your tribe is a glorious feeling. Atletico Madrid supporters are some of the most passionate, and that’s saying a lot in Europe. Every effort on the ball from a player in red and white was cheered, every bad call Atleti’s way was booed.
For their part, the Bayern Munich fans who made the trek from Germany were well behaved but supportive. Behaving was not an option, as they were sealed into their away supporter stand by a fence, with guards positioned all around them.
You never quite know what will unbalance Atleti — Diego Godin out with injuries could unsettle the back four, or manager Diego Simeone’s ejection into the stands last Saturday (and subsequent three-match ban; more on that below) could have made a difference to the squad–although his ban does not include Champions League matches.
But this was an Atletico Madrid that knew what it was doing; it was a well-oiled machine that has gelled beautifully over the past months, finally getting that pushing up while remaining tight in the middle. The defense, which I worried could be easily met by Pep Guardiola since he clearly knew about it, was excellent.
Bayern Munich had to resort to diving and feigning injury in order to disrupt the defensive flow. As tactics go, that was a poor one and it showed as Atleti unnerved the visitors to allow Saul Niguez to sneak one into the net in a truly gorgeous goal.
I imagine there was a fair amount of yelling in the away dressing room as Pep told his side to put some actual effort in. It worked, as Bayern returned to the pitch for the second half with renewed purpose, and sent several balls toward the Atleti net; alas, most seemed to land directly in Jan Oblak’s hands.
The fans never stopped screaming and Atleti never stopped fighting, even as the clock ticked down and Bayern became desperate. The fact that Atleti denied an all-important away goal is as huge as the one they did manage.
Now people want to know which side is favored when Atleti travel to Munich for Wednesday.
The answer is: the home side always has a slight advantage, and you can expect Bayern fans to give their team just as much love as we gave ours (well, if that’s even possible). But Atleti are up–and Bayern will have to fight. That means more desperation, especially in front of the home crowd. Atleti could very well take advantage again.
But first, Atleti must play a league match on Saturday against Rayo Vallecano. I will be there from the press box, live tweeting and live streaming before and after the match.
Unfortunately, I won’t be seeing Simeone on the touchline. Sent to the stands after a ball was thrown from his area during the match against Malaga last Saturday, it was announced that he will serve a three-match ban, which means he will sit in the stands for the remaining three matches of the season. This is a terrible blow as Atleti chase the title, and although Simeone denied he ordered a ball boy to throw the ball, he accepted the punishment as required by FIFA rules that managers are responsible for what happens in their areas.
However, this isn’t the first time Simeone has experienced touchline bans–remember in 2014 when he enjoyed an eight-match ban in the Super Cup second leg against Real Madrid, for smacking a linesman (four matches), protesting it (two matches), sassily applauding his sending off (one match), and finally remaining in the stands defiantly instead of leaving (one match).
Then, the team missed him, but did just fine. The squad knows their jobs. They do it regardless of whether their jefe stands on the sidelines or not. Mono Burgos, second in command, coaches Simeone’s way, and the staff is consistent. Was it reckless? Of course. Not an ideal way to tamper with the squad’s equilibrium so close to the end of the season and the title race.
I look forward to hearing what Simeone says in the press conference after the match.
Join me on Twitter before and during the match– @thestoppagetime.