Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid Owe Champions League Challenge to Great Home Defence and Koke

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 09:  Koke of Club Atletico de Madrid celebrates scoring the opening goal with David Villa of Club Atletico de Madrid  during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 9, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

Atletico Madrid beat Barcelona 1-0 in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg on Wednesday night—and now more people might just take notice of the fact this is a well-run, hugely organised team who are very much capable of winning the competition.

In fact it's a league and European double that Atletico are aiming for, as they sit top of La Liga with six matches to play, and into the semi-finals of the Champions League after their 2-1 aggregate win.

Diego Simeone and his side have somehow escaped the attention and praise at times which has been lavished on the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, as well as the now-knocked-out PSG, Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund.

1 - Atletico is the first team to knock out Barcelona in Champions League quarter-finals since Juventus in 2003. Profusion

OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 9, 2014

Atleti are the real deal and can thank their superb home record, their defensive acumen and hugely talented attacking individuals for giving them the chance to bring more silverware to the table over the coming four weeks.

 

Simeone's Winning Mentality

Atletico's stereotypical image is that of a hard-working underdog side, fighting to live up to the shadowy, larger, more successful figure of the city beside it, but ultimately just falling short.

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 09:  Diego Simeone, Coach of Club Atletico de Madrid gives instructions during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 9, 2014 in
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Manager Diego Simeone has entirely eradicated that fragile, second-best mentality since his arrival in winter 2011, winning the Europa League, the Copa del Rey and the European Super Cup in his slightly-under two-and-a-half years since.

Simeone himself won La Liga with Atletico as a player in 1995-96 season—the last time Atleti won the Spanish title. The former Argentine midfielder also won a bundle of other trophies, including Serie A, the UEFA Cup, two Copa Americas with his nation and a handful of domestic cups.

This is a man used to winning, and he's brought that expectancy with him to Atletico's current crop of players.

 

Vicente Calderon

There is only one team unbeaten at home in domestic league action in Spain, and it's not Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Atletico will relocate to the redeveloped Olympic Stadium, La Peineta, for 2016-17
Atletico will relocate to the redeveloped Olympic Stadium, La Peineta, for 2016-17Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Atletico have won 14 and drawn three of their 17 games at the Calderon stadium so far, conceding just nine goals along the way. They are incredibly hard to break down—see B/R's Sam Tighe's tactical analysis from the Barcelona game of just why—and yet remain an effective, dangerous opponent when going forward.

Barcelona didn't score the first goal of the game in any of their 5 games against Atletico this season #fcblive [via @pedritonumeros]

barcastuff (@barcastuff) April 10, 2014

Against teams in the top half of La Liga, Atletico have the best points per game tally (2.27) of any side so far, another indication of their mental strength as much as their quality. They've kept 17 clean sheets, the highest tally in the league, with 11 of those coming at home.

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 09:  Diego Godin, Juanfran and Koke of Club Atletico de Madrid hug as Thibaut Courtois of Club Atletico de Madrid applauds the fans during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and F
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

In the Champions League it has been a similar story: Not one match lost in 10, and all five home games having been won. That's Zenit St. Petersburg, Austria Wien, Porto, AC Milan and now Barcelona, all beaten at the Calderon. Oh, and three more clean sheets, too.

Miranda, Thibaut Courtois, Diego Godin: We salute you.

 

Koke

It's not all about the defence with Atletico; how could it be with the likes of Diego Costa and Arda Turan in exceptional form, and Raul Garcia enjoying perhaps the best season of his career?

All three are vital, but Koke is one real standout for them.

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 09:  Koke of Club Atletico de Madrid scores the opening goal uring the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 9, 2014 in Madrid, Spai
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Playing across the midfield line as the shape of the game dictates, he flows from flank to flank, knitting together build-up play in one area before popping up 20 metres further up the pitch to play the killer pass into the penalty area. Koke has created more chances in the Champions League—16 in 10 games—than any of his team-mates, while he also weighed in with the all-important goal against Barca.

Koke gives Atletico an early lead vs Barcelona https://t.co/cywVgTqB9h

— Football Vines (@FootballVines) April 9, 2014

That was his first in European competition for Atletico.

He's also a prodigiously hard worker, he is improving all the time with his tactical knowledge, and he has the versatility to play around five different roles within the team. Koke is a superb talent and he, as much as anyone, is capable of raising his game when the stakes are highest and the biggest prizes are ready to be won.

 

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