Atletico Madrid secured their progress to the Champions League final with a superb 3-1 win away to Chelsea on Wednesday night. It was about as comprehensive an away victory as could be expected at this stage of the competition and one that provided further confirmation that both this Atletico side and their coach Diego Simeone are the real deal.
What Atletico have achieved this season is little short of incredible. With a budget that is dwarfed by those of both their domestic and the majority of their continental rivals, Atletico are just two wins away from winning La Liga and have made it through to the final of the Champions League.
Credit has to be given to the players, but it is clear that the architect of the club's success, the man who inspires such fidelity, who has fostered the togetherness that has been such a key part of what they have achieved, is Simeone.
"Simeone's mere presence on the touchline motivates us," midfielder Tiago Mendes recently told The Guardian's Sid Lowe. "Seeing the way he lives every minute reaches you; what he transmits to us on the pitch is incredible."
Yet Simeone was far more than just a motivator on Wednesday. He made a number of tactical decisions that proved vital to the outcome of the match.
The first was the surprise selection of Adrian Lopez in place of Raul Garcia. Per Soccerway, Lopez had not scored since Atletico's 1-1 draw away at Zenit in November. He has only been involved sporadically throughout the season. But it was him who got Atletico back into the match on the stroke of half time, firing home Juanfran's cross to level the scores at 1-1.
Likewise, Arda Turan, who was always expected to start after recovering from injury, but whose inclusion nevertheless limited David Villa and Diego Ribas to the substitutes bench. He was bright throughout and scored Atletico's third, reacting quickly to tap home the rebound from his own header against the crossbar.
Most impressive, however, was the way in which a slight tactical tweak at half-time, in alliance with Simeone's conviction, saw Atletico take control of the match in the second half.
Koke had spent the first half exchanging flanks with Turan, but was pulled into a central midfield three for the second half, with Adrian, then the substitute Raul Garcia, patrolling the right flank and Turan permanently stationed on the left. He saw more of the ball in his new role, completing 36 passes, in comparison to 19 in the first half, per Squawka, and helped his side establish control of the match.
Atletico came out on the front foot in the second half and after forcing a couple of early corners, Simeone could be seen urging his team forward from the sidelines. He was clearly keen to push home the momentum his side were accumulating.
Diego Costa, whose effort and application have been emblematic of Atletico's season, was the man who provided the tangible end product, going down inside the area under a challenge from Samuel Eto'o before dusting himself off and converting from the penalty spot.
Thereafter, there was little doubt that Atletico would be joining city rivals Real Madrid in the final. They combined spells of stout defending with periods of possession football to see out the match and book their place in Lisbon.
In the aftermath of victory, Simeone stated that his focus will now immediately turn to the trip to Levante on Sunday, per AS, but in the back of his mind he will surely already be constructing a plan to upset the white half of Madrid in the final.
He has crafted a team in his own image: strong, intense, hard-working and tactically astute. Atletico have answers for most questions opposition sides ask of them and if the quarter-final victory over Barcelona did not provide sufficient evidence of their excellence, Wednesday's win certainly did.
For Simeone, it was also an opportunity to show he could hang with and beat the best. On the back of a season like this, he is certain to be one of the most sought-after coaches in Europe this summer.
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