How Diego Simeone Beat Bayern and Can Win Atletico Madrid the Champions League

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2016

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Head coach of Atletico Madrid Diego Simeone gestures during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen (Bayern Munich) at Estadio Vicente Calderon stadium on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

They wouldn't have it any other way, would they? Atletico Madrid reached the UEFA Champions League final on Tuesday night in painful, emotional, close-to-desperate fashion, as they beat Bayern Munich on away goals to set up a meeting with Manchester City or Real Madrid.

Drawing 2-2 on aggregate, the victory could have been simpler for Atletico had Fernando Torres netted his second-half penalty.

It could have been more straightforward had Atleti defended in more organised fashion, had Jan Oblak not had to save a penalty from Thomas Muller or had they made use of their counter-attacks in the late stages of the game—but this way was most Atletico-like of all.

This way was "Cholismo," the way of their manager, with Diego Simeone's madness and genius on the touchline the overriding reason Los Rojiblancos have managed to come so far.

Man Manager

It's stated at times that players "aren't playing for the manager," usually when bad results are followed by rumours of a sacking. That has never been heard with regard to Simeone, certainly not at Atletico Madrid, and it's improbable it ever will be.

The Argentinian has his players running through walls for him and for the shirt, working tremendously hard as a group, but only in order to reap huge rewards. He drills his team in training relentlessly and jettisons those who fail to adapt or refuse to put in the required effort.

In return, though, for those he keeps around, he can promise improbable tilts at titles, the fervent support of a passionate crowd and, perhaps most importantly, his own absolute belief and trust.

When a player is in the team under Simeone, he's in the team to stay until form or fitness determine otherwise. Rotation is important for all big sides, and sweeping changes are made to the Atleti team when required, but by and large, he'll have a core of players he trusts implicitly.

Saul, one of those who has transitioned from squad reserve to undisputed starter for Simeone this season
Saul, one of those who has transitioned from squad reserve to undisputed starter for Simeone this seasonJean Catuffe/Getty Images

Against Bayern, that was on display in full effect—the starting XI was predictable, and those who came on as substitutes are the names he has called upon most often in the past two or three months, with the exception of Angel Correa.


It's not just about running, heart, hard work and motivation. Simeone has an absolute plan for his team, for all types of games, and everyone involved knows their role and others' down to a fine point.

The flexibility and versatility of key players—Koke, Saul, Antoine Griezmann—means the team can quickly and easily switch the balance of midfield, while his substitution against Bayern displayed Simeone's willingness to make early changes if he thinks he has got the first XI wrong, or if the game has panned out differently to how he hoped.

Bayern’s speed, intensity, aerial dominance pegged Atletico back. Simeone: “I fell in love with Bayern - we couldn’t respond to their game."

— Andrew Gaffney (@GaffneyVLC) May 4, 2016

#Simeone: "In the first half, we were up against the best team I have faced in my career. The way Bayern played was incredible." #FCBAtleti

— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) May 3, 2016

Bringing on Yannick Carrasco for Augusto Fernandez at half-time in the Allianz Arena was the 19th time this season Simeone has made a sub on or before the 55th minute.

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid reacts during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Pho
David Ramos/Getty Images

There are link players, outlet balls, individuals able to surge from deep. There are mini teams and alliances in every zone throughout the Atletico team.

In a flat four midfield or a 4-3-3, the team can tilt and pivot to provide cover where needed and exploit gaps on the break. There is no area of the side that isn't rigorously drilled by the coach and has a job to do, with or without the ball.

It means they don't panic against an outrageously good team such as Bayern Munich. It means there's a plan to fall back on when they do concede a goal. And it means they know exactly how to get the result they require.

Will to Win

Above all else with Simeone is the absolute refusal to countenance the possibility of defeat.

His every action and gesture on the touchline at the Allianzas it is at the Vicente Calderon, as it will be at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan on May 28is geared toward obstructing the opposition and propelling his team to victory.

A brief skirmish with Franck Ribery? Get under his skin. Stop him playing well.

A member of your own staff messes up a substitution at the precise moment you want it done late in the game? Well, there's no escaping the reaction to that idiocy.

The guy Simeone hit on the shoulder as he couldnt make sub when he wanted was delegate from his own club Pedro Pablo Matesanz

— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) May 3, 2016

Diego Simeone: Because sometimes chill is overrated pic.twitter.com/OukLnbKIQ6

— Howler Magazine (@whatahowler) May 3, 2016

Mentality in football is such an unbelievably crucial aspect that it genuinely can make the difference between success and failure. To deny that force of will can push teams over the line, or can make a good player a great one when it counts the most, is to deny everything that is human about sport and winning.

Simeone imparts his own outlook on his players, and Atletico have become a relentless machine built in his own image. He has already won the Copa del Rey, the UEFA Europa League and even La Liga with Atletico Madrid, with just the Champions League left to pick up.

He, and Atleti, were denied that in heartbreaking fashion by rivals Real Madrid two seasons ago. Now, who do we think Simeone most wants to face in Milan?