A tale of two penalties
Turkish referee Cüneyt Cakir and his team officiated over an extraordinarily intense game with remarkable firmness and flexibility. Cakir somehow managed to keep tempers under control without issuing a torrent of cards. In fact, he would issue only two yellow cards, both for penalties: one for Giménez, who pulled down Javi Martinez in Atletico's penalty area, and one for Javi Martinez, who tackled Fernando Torres but missed the ball as the latter crossed into Bayern's penalty area. Incredibly, both penalties were saved: Jan Oblak blocked both Thomas Muller's shot and Xabi Alonso's nearly instantaneous follow-up, and Manuel Neuer likewise blocked Torres' shot. One can praise the goalkeepers or blame the shooters according one's allegiances, but Muller's missed shot is the bitterest of all. It would have given Bayern an early, perhaps decisive 2-0 lead at halftime. Instead, Bayern was forced to continue to push for a goal throughout the second half. That push would lead to a defensive mistake and Atletico's winning away goal.
Poor finishing from Lewandowski when we needed him most
The statistics for this bizarre contest between diametrically opposite teams tell a story all their own. The one that stands out most to me is total shots: Bayern launched the ball 33 times at Atletico's goal, while Atletico managed a mere seven shots in return. Atletico's defense is designed to withstand a high volume of shots: they force players into making shots from distance or at extreme angles that have little chance of getting past the keeper - and Jan Oblak is moreover an excellent keeper. Here is what those shots looked like today:
xG map for Bayern-Atleti. Jan Oblak, time-travelling octopod, blows his cover as an earth human, Atleti go through. pic.twitter.com/3ifY0ZCzyd— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) May 3, 2016
Atletico benefited, however, from one of the weakest performances we have seen this year by Robert Lewandowski, who led Bayern's offense with 8 shots - one more than Atletico collectively. Yes, he scored an important goal, but little else went right for him today. Lewy's first touch today was appalling, and it hurt most in the fiery first half, when Bayern utterly dominated the game. Just before Atletico scored its fateful goal, Lewandowski erased one of Bayern's best opportunities by simply missing a beautiful breakaway pass from Philipp Lahm. He tried to collect a good pass and just missed. Lewy was frustrated and sloppy today, and failed to put away the many chances sent his way by Lahm, Costa, and especially Ribery. Costa and late substitute Kingsley Coman likewise flailed away in vain at Atletico's defense, but the offense was counting on Lewandowski, and he failed to deliver.
Boateng merely mortal
Jerome Boateng put in a phenomenal performance today up until the 53rd minute. Bayern's defense in the first half was the most economical and efficient we have seen in a long time. He worked effortlessly with Javi Martinez and David Alaba to intercept virtually everything that Atletico managed to slip by Bayern's relentless midfield machine. Bayern's defense seemed impregnable, but that dominant performance came to a screeching halt early in the second half. Boateng rashly charged up the midfield to break up a counter before it happened, leaving Alaba, Alonso, and Javi behind him. Boateng missed the ball. Atletico played it past him and the rest of Bayern's midfield to Fernando Torres, who deftly headed the ball down into the path of Antoine Griezmann. Griezmann expertly split Xabi Alonso and David Alaba from a barely onsides position and beat Neuer for Atletico's sole goal of the game. In a sense, Boateng's one defensive blunder in an otherwise excellent performance was decisive.
The fox knows many things; the hedgehog, one big thing
Pep Guardiola unleashed on Atletico one of the best, most dominant performances we have ever seen under his tutelage. Bayern's possession-driven machine worked on overdrive today. Atletico looked hopelessly outclassed in the first 45 minutes. With Thomas Muller and Lewandowski roaming forward, Douglas Costa and Franck Ribery had the room to maneuver on the wings and deliver crosses. If the wings were stifled, they could turn to Philipp Lahm or Arturo Vidal lurking just behind them to shift possession to the center and suddenly redirect it to the opposite wing. If that failed, Vidal or David Alaba might deliver a long-range blast from the midfield. Alternatively, with the return of Boateng, we not only recovered our best defender but the one center-back who can consistently deliver Pirlo-esque long balls to Bayern's strikers, taking a shortcut through Atletico's ranks. Alaba, Alonso, and especially Boateng repeatedly attempted to break down Atletico with a timely pass forward.
But like the proverbial hedgehog, for all the many ways Pep in which tried to outfox it, prickly Atletico relied on that one big thing it knows: relentless, focused defense. Coming to Munich with an aggregate advantage, Atletico ruthlessly plied its trade and ground out the result it needed. When designated bus-driver Thomas Partey replaced Griezmann in the 82nd minute, Atletico went on lockdown, and they almost snatched a second goal from under Bayern's nose when Torres drew a late penalty. It was ugly, but effective.
On aggregate, this is what an ocean battering a mountain looks like:
Two-legged xG map for Bayern-Atleti. What Atletico did to stop Barca was spectacular. This was much much more dicey. pic.twitter.com/asaux7JwpI— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) May 3, 2016
Bayern's biggest mistake was made in Madrid
That brings me to the key to this Champions League semifinal match: the lineup. The lineup we saw today was dominant. It was also almost totally predictable, because it was the lineup we all expected to see last week in Madrid - with the exception of Boateng, who was not yet fit. The contrast between the two legs captures the essence of Pep Guardiola's brilliant but infuriating tenure at Bayern Munich. He is ever the clever tactical tinkerer, but sometimes proves to be too clever by half. Pep's plan for the crucial away game in Madrid backfired: Costa and Coman failed to deliver on the wings without the added threat of Thomas Muller. If nothing else, is not the one thing we all know that you never bench Muller? And Ribery may well have provided the fiery leadership and drive in Madrid that we witnessed on the pitch today. Taken in isolation, today's game was an inspired performance against a devastating counter-attacking squad. But Bayern's failure to score in Madrid ultimately gave Atletico the upper hand, and the one thing they do best is never yield. Pep will depart Munich without a Champions League trophy, and he is perhaps the one person most responsible for that fact.