MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) nailed last week’s semi-final first leg. Can he repeat the feat in Munich as Bayern and Atletico Madrid go head-to-head for a place in the final?
Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid | Tuesday 19.45 | BT Sport Europe
If Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone was asked to forecast the first leg, last Wednesday’s clash in the Vicente Calderon wouldn’t have been far off perfection.
Saul Niguez’s flourish of brilliance settled matters in Los Colchoneros’ favour and now the Spaniards are firm favourites to clinch just a third ever final in Europe’s showpiece event.
Atleti have progressed on the last 15 occasions they won as hosts and of the 29 teams to previously take a 1-0 victory in the home first leg of a Champions League knockout tie, a chunky 20 (69%) have managed to see out the second leg.
So I’m a little surprised to see we’re able to support the visitors at 8/11 (Bet365) to qualify here. No side on the enjoys playing the underdog role more and no side on earth knows how to sit and protect better than Simeone’s battle-hardened and lion-hearted squad.
Remember, an away goal leaves Bayern Munich requiring three to qualify and Los Colchoneros have only leaked three goals once this season and since 2012/13 they’ve shipped at least three goals on just 10 occasions over 226 matches across all competitions – that’s 4%!
The visitors have recorded 31 clean sheets in all competitions this term and have managed to find the back of the net in six of their last eight away matches at Real Madrid and five of their last six at the Camp Nou. It’s a potent combo.
Atletico combine a wonderful blend of organisational excellence, dogged hard work and outstanding efficiency but last week they utilised a supreme advanced pressing system, a tactic that was quite different to how they had nullified Barcelona’s hallowed attacking trinity. It was almost a carbon copy of Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen who shut down the Bavarians in February.
The guests have extraordinarily kept their sheets clean in 15 of their last 20 Champions League ties – including four in five knockout games this season – and were at it again on Saturday. Atletico saw off Rayo Vallecano 1-0 despite making seven changes, to record their seventh successive success, including a sixth clean sheet in that spell.
The Spaniards can welcome back defensive rock Diego Godin from injury and also now select the fully fit Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, giving Simeone’s side greater options further forward on the counter-attack. And Los Colchoneros are masters of the clinical break and executed it perfectly against Barcelona in the quarter-final.
Looking back at the first leg, Bayern did push and press hard for a goal, firing in 20 attempts and creating 17 chances whilst Atletico faced the fourth-most shots on goal (7) in a match all season. Indeed, the Madrid club enjoyed just 26.5% possession but defended like a pack of wolves.
Simeone arguably got the better of Pep Guardiola from a tactical perspective and now the Bayern boss – leaving Thomas Muller on the bench courted controversy – and now the Catalan is under intense pressure to deliver a stirring comeback in the Allianz Arena.
Bayern Munich have progressed from five of the seven Champions League ties in which they’ve lost the away leg 1-0 and the hosts have won their last 11 in a row in this competition on home soil, although one of those – against Juventus in the last 16 – came after extra time when they trailed 2-0 and only levelled in the last minute of normal time.
The Bavarian powerhouses have been struggling to make their dominance pay of late and the 10-time finalists were far from convincing when edging past Juve and Benfica in the previous two rounds.
Pep’s men have also recorded just the one clean sheet in five knockout rounds this season with both previous visitors to Munich enjoying enough goalscoring opportunities to have landed a Bayern KO.
At the weekend, FC Hollywood fielded a B team against Gladbach and were held to a 1-1 draw, missing the opportunity to wrap up the title early and in front of their own fans. Jerome Boateng made his long-awaited return in that game but the Bayern crowd and local press remained unimpressed.
Pep’s legacy in Munich is on the line as his treble-seeking side begin to chunder on the final furlong. The Munich media are already preparing the Catalan’s footballing obituary having seen the Bavarians fail to grab an away goal on Spanish soil for the third successive year – previously losing out to Real Madrid and Barcelona – the knives are being sharpened.
Patience is key if the hosts are to stand any chance and they must move away from the slow paced and predictable football they’ve practised all too often in recent months. However, a repeat of their headless chicken antics that were seen against Juventus could and will kill off their treble dreams in an instant.
There are of course positives – Robert Lewandowski and Muller have combined for 70 goals this season and both should start here. But the Juventus matches are possibly the closest dress rehearsal for Atletico and in three encounters against the Old Lady and Los Colchoneros, Bayern have fumbled.
Simeone will know, the longer they can keep the Germans from scoring, the more likely the game is to open up. And then it comes down to the simple matter of efficiency, so sitting deep and structured for the first 45 minutes will be top of Atleti’s agenda – and those ideals could lead us to profit.
In seven away Champions League knockout ties under the Argentine, the half-time scores has been 0-0 on five occasions. A repeat at the Allianz Arena can be snapped up at 7/4 (SkyBet) and that looks like a great first port of call.
Secondly, we can snap up Under 2.5 Goals at a hunky 9/11 (Marathon) – that’s 1.82 in decimals. Ordinarily this selection would be much shorter but because this is a second leg where attack will have to become top priority for someone at some stage, we’re able to capitalise on the generous price.
For the record, fewer than three goals have been scored in five of Atletico’s last six as well as five of their seven away knockout ties in this competition. Meanwhile, Bayern have followed suit in seven of their last 10 across all competitions and I just can’t foresee a goal-heavy game in Munich as Atletico squeeze themselves into the final.