The UEFA Champions League semifinal bout between Atlético Madrid and Bayern Munich features two completely different philosophies that will create two magical football matches to watch. Two incredible teams, two incredible coaches, and two incredible stadiums for what promises to be a spectacular matchup.
There are plenty of stars in both sides. Some of the best strikers in football, the best goalkeeper on Earth, two great defenses, fantastic midfielders, talented South American stars and world-class European footballers. And yet, somehow, the stars of the show are not on the pitch. Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone will steal all headlines and all cameras, and it is because of them that this is the most fascinating semifinal in recent memory.
Guardiola revolutionized the sport in his four years with Barcelona. He brought back a style of play that got lost in the past, and created a system that completely destroyed the world of football through domination of possession and positional play thanks to the genius mind of the former midfielder. Pep has changed the sport forever, and is a true living legend who hopes to continue building his legacy by winning titles HIS way, with HIS style and HIS convictions, making his football team play a very beautiful game in the process.
Simeone is a genius in his own right. He is a master tactician and a mastermind just like Guardiola, but he has created a completely opposite style of football. His team are built to defend, close spaces and win games and trophies through set-pieces and counter-attacks. But what makes Simeone truly special is his ability to make his players believe. He has some incredible talents on his squad who would love to play football in a Guardiola system, but put their egos to the side and work for the team, for the fans, and more importantly, to El Cholo.
This clash of philosophies and styles is what makes this a sensational football match. It's a truly special moment: the master of offense against the master of defense facing off for a spot in the Champions League Final. This is amazing already, and the game hasn't even started yet.
Simeone has very good and very bad news for this Wednesday's match. The very good news is the return of Fernando Torres from a red card suspension against Barcelona two weeks ago. The striker is in great form in the last few months, and his presence in the box could prove to be fundamental for Atlético to have a goal or two at home.
But the very bad news affects the strongest part of Simeone's scheme: Diego Godín, the best defender on the planet, is out with a hamstring injury, and is a major absence against some of the most dangerous strikers in Europe. But Atleti is boosted by the return of Godín's Uruguayan teammate, José Giménez. The young defender is fully recovered from a muscle injury of his own and is likely to be paired with Lucas Hernández in the center of the defense, with Juanfran and Filipe Luís starting as full-backs.
In the middle, Gabi and Augusto Fernández are key. Bayern's fluid system sees different players floating in and out of the midfield all the time to help with the passing game, and the Bavarians are even more dangerous when they are close to the box with wingers open on both sides ready to make diagonal runs. Gabi and Augusto have to trouble Bayern's passers near the area, and their tackles could lead to dangerous counter-attacks. Saúl Ñíguez and Koke will have a big responsibility defending on the wings, and are also important to create chances on the counter.
And up front, alongside Torres, Antoine Griezmann, in the form of his life, has to come up big with his speed against Bayern's defenders, and use his scoring ability to beat Manuel Neuer and help Atlético get a key home victory.
Pep Guardiola has one last chance to win a Champions League title with Bayern, the only major trophy he is yet to win in three years with the Bavarian giants. After two European Cup titles with Barça, the Catalan feels obligated to leave Munich with the Big Ear to legitimize his job with Bayern. Achieving a great result a Vicente Calderón is a big step towards the Milan Final, and he'll certainly bring his big guns to beat the Colchoneros.
Many analysts are comparing this tie to the quarterfinal matchup between Atleti and Barcelona a few weeks ago. But things are different: Bayern plays a much different football style than the Blaugrana. The only similarity is the big possession stats, but Simeone has a different puzzle to figure out this time. Luis Enrique has a much simpler approach to his scheme, created to support the individual brilliance of the 'MSN' trio.
Bayern on the other hand plays a collective style that needs to work together to be at its best. There are great players, but they're nowhere near the level of Messi, Suárez or Neymar, which is why Pep's Bayern is built to use every single player on the pitch to break down the opposing defense. This current version of Pep Ball features a much more compact team, with virtually no overlapping runs from full-backs, who stay back with the midfielders to gain numerical superiority in the middle of the park.
There is no false nine like his best Barça had, but his two strikers, Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, have to move constantly to open spaces for the central midfielders, mainly Arturo Vidal, who has turned into a goal machine recently. Douglas Costa and Franck Ribéry have one simple job as wingers: be glued to the sideline to stretch the pitch as much as possible, and as soon as they get the ball, they are free to use their individual skills to beat defenders one on one and launch dangerous crosses to the box.
Philipp Lahm, David Alaba and Xabi Alonso sustain the entire machine with their passing ability, and the Spaniard is fundamental for his ability to swing the ball from side to side to force the defense to quickly shit, which could open up some spaces for Müller and Lewa to take advantage.
Pep's tactical approach is the main story of the game. We've seen enough of Simeone's defense to see how compact and physical it is, and it's Guardiola's job to figure out a way to break it down with his possession game. And, as Barcelona fans, we are sure he can do it.
What a game we're going to watch.
Atlético Madrid: WWWWWL
Bayern Munich: WWWDWW
Atlético (4-4-2): Oblak; Juanfran, Giménez, Lucas, Luís; Saúl, Augusto, Gabi, Koke; Griezmann, Torres
Bayern (4-1-4-1): Neuer; Lahm, Kimmich, Martínez, Alaba; Alonso; Costa, Müller, Vidal, Ribéry; Lewandowski
This is a fascinating match with so many possibilities that it's impossible to see what's coming. But the Calderón will help Atlético control Bayern: 1-1 draw.