ATLETICO AND SEVILLA’S FIRST LEGS PROVE HELP AND HINDRANCE
ATLETICO MADRID AND SEVILLA’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FIRST LEGS PROVE HELP AND HINDRANCE
At Estadio Vicente Calderon on Wednesday, there occurred something of a non-event. An interesting one, which boasted some fantastic goalkeeping from both Bernd Leno and Jan Oblak, but nonetheless it lacked an true intensity and competitive edge.
Kevin Volland personified the frustrations of Bayer Leverkusen during his continued personal battles with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin, but altogether the German club looked like a team who had dug themselves into a deep hole and weren’t too sure of how to clamber back out.
Tayfun Korkut bizarrely didn’t make a change until the 78th minute, as his side prodded unconvincing blows at a robust Atletico Madrid and were unable to beat an indomitable Oblak. Leverkusen’s first-leg 4-2 implosion proved too costly, as Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro’s lethal partnership at BayArena allowed for Diego Simeone’s men to play with an assurance and confidence that losing by a two-goal margin in front of their own fans was unthinkable.
Atletico were able to cruise to a 0-0 draw that saw them ease into the Champions League quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive year. Sevilla, meanwhile, had no such luxury. Their second leg should have gone the same way as their compatriot club. While Simeone’s men had put a poorly, even naively, deployed Leverkusen to the sword in Germany, Los Nervionenses were incapable of doing the same against Leicester.
At Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, when Joaquin Correa was taken down for an early penalty the breakthrough appeared high, but the Argentine saw his effort saved by Kasper Schmeichel in the opening quarter of an hour to halt any immediate momentum. Jorge Sampaoli’s side pressed high to bombard the opposition goal from all angles, but ultimately came up short, leaving the tie finely balanced rather than comfortably dealt with.
Pablo Sarabia tucked home a neat header to make it 1-0 inside the opening half an hour, suggesting that the floodgates were surely soon to open, but the water never arrived to wash the Foxes downstream. Leicester sat back in two banks of four and tried to survive the siege, but chances and opportunities crept through the gaps. Realistically, the home side should have been three or four goals up by the half-time break, but profligacy reigned supreme.
Predicting the Future
As the events unfolded on the pitch in the first half, Sampaoli furiously kicked at the glass window of his viewing box, perhaps knowing that his side were making things unconsciously difficult for themselves.
“They have a very quick attack, a very vertical one,” Sampaoli had explained back in February, before the tie itself.
“We have a way of playing that we can impose on them. If we don’t do it, we will run the risk of doing it against a rival that has a lot of experience doing us damage.
“They are not enjoying good form at the moment in the league, but in the Champions League they finished first and across two games they are a very dangerous opponent for us.”
“When [Jamie] Vardy finds a goal I am sure they are going to be a strong team again. Today, they aren’t talked about as a team that won the league, but rather as a team who aren’t doing well.”
While Atletico dealt Leverkusen a swift and uncompromising blow to their Champions League dreams in the first leg, Sevilla did little more than stir a slumbering dragon, with Vardy’s strike 20 minutes from time in Spain indeed reinvigorating the Foxes as Sampaoli predicted. Stevan Jovetic ensured that his side protected a 2-1 aggregate lead after the first 90 minutes of the tie, but it didn’t feel enough.
Plenty changed in between the first and second leg, with Claudio Ranieri taking his leave from the club after an unprecedented first season at the helm. Craig Shakespeare took his place organically, and quickly saw results, as both Hull City and Liverpool fell to 3-1 defeats in consecutive games. Morale turned upwards, belief came back, and the powerful idea of the Leicester fairytale dusted itself off and sat back on the bookshelf, ready to take another turn.
The Great Dane
While the improvement that Leicester showed in their 2-0 victory over Sevilla in the second leg was impressive and deserves plaudits, the match at the King Power should have been like Atletico’s – a non-event. The tie was there for the taking, with Kasper Schmeichel plugging the gaps almost single-handedly in a footballing Thermopylae.
Goals from Wes Morgan and Mark Albrighton breathed new belief back into Leicester and their fans, but had Joaquin Correa netted a first-half penalty in Seville, or had Steven N’Zonzi done the same from 12 yards in England, the celebrations should have been little more than collecting the ball and heading back to the centre circle in a desperate and all-the-more-unlikely attempt for the Premier League champions to try and recreate Barcelona’s recent heroics.
Atletico saw out their first leg against Leverkusen in uncompromising and clinical fashion, while Sevilla paid the price for failing to take the numerous opportunities thrown their way, allowing for Leicester to play on their own terms, rather than have Sampaoli dictate his philosophy to them.
Los Nervionenses knew the dangers of Leicester and pre-prepared to evade them, but were unable to play their own game. It will be intriguing to see which teams fall into the same trap between now and the Champions League final.