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Atléti's Leverkusen nightmare

Atléti's Leverkusen nightmare

The goal of Calhanoglu and suspensions of Tiego and Godín for the second leg make life difficult for Atlético going into the second leg.

It was a nightmare. But like every bad dream, when Atleti opened their eyes they were still alive. Wounded by a goal from Calhanoglu, and the speed and intensity of Bayer Leverkusen, but alive. Beside the Manzanares they will now have to overcome a 1-0 deficit to progress. It is impossible to imagine anything that resembles what was seen at the BayArena, where the Germans were a clone of the best of Atleti and Simeone’s men were a mere shadow of their usual selves. They seemed meek and, at times, scared. Every tackle and every long ball ended with victory for a player in red. But Atleti were not fully put to the sword and they live to fight another day. All that matters on a horrible night is that the tie can still be rescued.

Bayer played football – and what a battle. The image that sums up the game is the seven-man German ‘stampede’, at breakneck speed, while Atleti faded to a sad grey that resembled the colour of their shirt. They shrunk and retreated, hoping Bayer would not devour them. It was cheetahs against gazelles. Lame. Bender led the way and the three midfielders, Bellarabi (24), Calhanoglu (21) and Son (22) attacked with speed and control and were a constant danger.

After nine minutes Griezmann came close to changing the fate of the night when he came inches away from connecting with a header but it only acted as a trailer for another movie, a comedy that never was. The action movie started immediately after. Bayer showed an intensity and a toughness, they amazed. When Arda received the ball he was surrounded by three opponents, around him like hounds around a hare. “You will tire”, muttered Atleti, but it did not happen.

In attack, Schmidt gave an obvious order: “Attack Siqueira”. And, led by Bellarabi, they did. When the Brazilian suffered a muscular injury after 39 minutes, Simeone was quick to replace him and was almost thankful it happened. However, the hostsonly had two clear chances before the break and both fell to Spahic. Mandzukic blocked his first effort and then the crossbar came to Atleti’s rescue from a long-range attempt.

On the last stretch of the first half, which saw Saúl come off prematurely through injury, Atlético regained some composure and almost came close to finding the back of the net, reminding Bayer of their threat. But Leno appeared. The young goalkeeper first took the ball from the head of Griezmann to deny the Frenchman and just before the half-time whistle he denied Tiago. How he say the ball through a sea of legs can only be explained by X-ray vision and extendable arms, it was incredible.

The second half stated with a brief truce before Bayer broke the deadlock in the 57th minute. Bellarami bundled his way past Gámez and Godín before putting Calhanoglu in. The ball settled and he lashed a powerful shot with his right foot into the back of the net. It was a great finish. Atlético panicked but three chances appeared from nowhere. One focused on a possible handball inside the box and on another occasion Torres had the ball in the back of the net only to see it disallowed with Griezmann´s cross being adjudged to have gone out of play. The foolish expulsion of Tiego in the 76th minute left Atleti leaving it was best to retreat and survive to fight in the second leg. They succeeded and everything is still in their hands.

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