In a thrilling contest in the Spanish capital, Atlético Madrid took Juventus apart, winning 2-0.
The match, at the venue of the final, was open and exciting yet also managed to be vintage Atleti as the Italian champions were blunted and beaten around by a brave and bright Atlético Madrid. What did we learn?
1. Godín and Giménez Ride Again!
There’s few things in football finer than a partnership. Two players next to each other developing an understanding and flourishing. Internationally or for club level, it’s all good stuff. And of course the best kind of partnerships are centre-back partnerships. Two big hard men who together are responsible for the safety of their team’s goal.
Of course the ultimate partnerships are not just for club or country, but both. These kind of partnerships are like gold dust, because both players have to be elite enough to play together for their country yet fortunate enough that they are at a club that can afford to keep them both. It rarely happens, but Atlético Madrid are fortunate to have one such duo.
Diego Godín and José Giménez both had amazing World Cups but have followed that up with middling to poor club seasons. Frustrated by injuries and spotty form, they’ve not delivered. But against Juventus? Against Juventus they were back to their brutal best. All gnashed teeth and thundering challenges at the back, Juventus’ high-powered attack got nowhere near Jan Oblak unless they smashed it from distance.
And in attack, when all else was flailing against VAR and bad luck, it was the centre-backs who stepped up and did the business. First, Giménez swept the ball home as Juve failed to clear a corner. Then Godín scissor-kicked the ball in off Cristiano Ronaldo from an acute angle after Juve failed to clear a free-kick. Two “strikers goals” from the most relentless and old-school defensive partnership on the planet.
2. Diego Costa: minister of the Dark Arts
If Hogwarts were real and footballers were teachers, Costa would unquestionably be minister of the dark arts. No one in the game can touch this guy when it comes to sneaky underhanded nonsense. And what’s more is he cheats with such effortless skill and consistency you can’t help but admire the man. It takes real skill to cheat well, and he does it.
Take the penalty – later rescinded to a free-kick – that he won in the first-half from Matteo Di Sciglio. There’s basically no contact, certainly not enough to knock a man of Costa’s size over. We’ve all watched the Spanish international overpower and outmuscle literally every centre-back he’s ever faced, at some point, yet this minute flicker of a man’s boot on the back of his leg knocked him down?
Yet down he went, and with such precise timing that even VAR had to concede it was a foul. The contact, such as it was, insisted upon it. If only Costa could finish as smoothly as he cheats, he would have given Atleti the lead early in the second half before he was withdrawn.
3. Cards should be wiped
First Diego Costa fell, then Thomas Partey, finally Alex Sandro. Three top players, top performers, ruled out of the second leg because of an accumulation of yellow cards. Except they effectively just got booked and suspended for that, because their earlier infractions were literally last year. It’s absurd that players can incur suspensions and so dramatically alter ties – watch Juve try and make a comeback without their stellar Brazilian left-back, it won’t be easy – simply for getting a yellow card in the first knockout match of the tournament! Change the rule, for goodness sake!
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4. Alvaro Morata can’t catch a break
Alvaro Morata left Chelsea because he couldn’t get a consistent run in their first XI as the starting striker and when he did he’d get injured. He joined Atlético, the club he played for as a boy, hoping to turn his luck around. Since then he’s had two penalties denied him by VAR, scored a stunning chip against Real Madrid that got ruled out by VAR, and then against Juventus…
On Wednesday he came on for Diego Costa and many would have suspected that his old team-mates in the Juventus defence, the muscular Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, would dominate and bully Morata. It turns out Morata was up for the fight, and when Filipe Luis whipped a cross in the Spaniard rose above Chiellini – who collapsed to the floor with a dive worthy of Costa- and thumped a header in… only for VAR to rule it out! It was an absurd decision and Morata must wonder what he has to do for his individual luck to turn.
5. Atleti show their resolve
Atlético Madrid are one of the biggest losers in European football. Few sides routinely finds a way to lose big games as often as Atleti. Benfica are perhaps the only side who can outdo them whilst Juventus do run them close in terms of losing finals, but their dominance of the Italian game means they can’t really be branded like Atlético, who are kind of a souped-up Spurs.
Atleti had VAR twice rob them – once correctly, once not so – of a massive, momentum-altering moment in the tie. This was a match they were dominating, yet Juve had a host of elite stars including Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored 22 career goals against them. You could just sense the Juve goal and Atleti collapse coming. And then, it didn’t.
If anything, Atleti got better. They snapped into tackles harder, they passed the ball with more intent and they ran Juve on the break repeatedly. Antoine Griezmann and Rodri wielded supreme authority and control in the middle of the park and Juve’s high-powered attack was mostly starved of service. Then their centre-backs stepped up and… Bang. Bang. 2-0. Atleti turned potential collapse into glorious triumph. An extreme validation of Diego Simeone’s mentality, methodology and a massive example of the resolve he’s given them.