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Champions League

Champions League Preview: Atletico Madrid vs. Bayern Munich

Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen logos lie on the grass ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Vincente Calderon stadium on April 26, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. April 27, 2016| Credit: Denis Doyle - UEFA

MADRID, SPAIN – Wednesday sees Pep’s Bayern Munich in Madrid for the first leg of their semi-final Champions League clash against Atletico Madrid. Given the display that Real Madrid and Manchester City put up, my guess is we can expect heavy defending and a very exciting match. (Note: see the end of this article for a special live stream announcement.)

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That many pundits failed to include Atletico Madrid in their final four pick is telling. This is a club that produces the unexpected. This is a club that fights–hard–and has a bone to pick. (Lisbon 2014, anyone?)

That Atleti has knocked Barcelona out already, and Barcelona knocked Bayern out last year, means little. Squads change, seasons bring new challenges.

So how will Atletico do against visitors Bayern tonight? We can expect a syncopated defense from Diego Simeone’s side, which will seek to close the opposition out and smother them to the point of frustration.

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Fernando Torres, who likely features in tonight’s lineup after being shown a red card in the first leg against Barca and subsequently missing the second match (but securing that magical away-goal before he was sent off), will probably be on the offensive again, if less riled up. He won’t want to cost his team again, especially now that he’s scoring almost a goal a match.

But Pep Guardiola is no fool.

Pep will want to go out of Bayern with a Champions League win. If that happens, it will be the third of his career after winning it with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011. In many ways, facing off against Simeone will be a solid and enjoyable coaching challenge, in which Pep must find subtle and smart ways to answer Simeone’s tactic of shutting down space, which is contradictory to Pep’s method of coordinated attacks. Count on Pep having paid close attention to the way Atletico kept it together to smother Barcelona’s MSN attack in the semi-finals.

Note that Atletico has not done this as well previously; they had not achieved a win against Barcelona since 2014. Answering Barca’s coordinated attacks with defense went only too far and it has been Atletico who erupted in frustration. (Remember when Arda Turan threw his boot at a linesman last year, and Gabi was sent off in the tunnel?)

The Atletico we saw against Barcelona in the semi-final was a markedly different one. It was a clinical and calculating side.

At the same time, Atleti players are tight, passionate, and full of fight for their team and coach. In any given game, you’ll see defenders do whatever it takes to stop a ball–throw themselves in front, fall, fight. Diego Godin took a black eye in the semi-finals.

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Therefore, I expect a fairly strong fight tonight between these two sides. Bayern must not score away-goals tonight. For Bayern, they must meet the steel wall of Simeone defense and find a way through without erupting in frustration.

But there is another consideration. ESPN’s Miguel Delaney suggests that teams that focus heavily on defense do not do as well in the Champions League, and those with “expensively assembled attacks” tend to dominate.

We’ll see.

I will see you live from outside the Vincente Calderon tonight, introducing the match on The Stoppage Time’s Facebook video stream. Join in just after 10 am for a report.

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