Atletico Madrid squeak past PSV to advance in Champions League
MADRID -- Three quick thoughts from the Estadio Vicente Calderon where it finished goalless after 120 minutes and Atletico Madrid won 8-7 on penalties to progress past an unfortunate PSV Eindhoven to the last eight of this year's Champions League.
1. Atletico squeak through on penalties
Atletico Madrid right-back Juanfran Torres was the penalty shoot-out hero on a super tense night at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, with the Spain international keeping his nerve to net after PSV's Luciano Narsingh had been the only player on either side to miss from the spot after seven perfect rounds.
Just as in the first leg last month in Eindhoven, this was a tight tactical battle, with neither team having too many clear chances to score over 120 minutes of action and both goalkeepers excelling.
Atletico had done more of the attacking throughout, and Antoine Griezmann had the first half's best chance, after good work from Juanfran and Koke, but visiting keeper Jeroen Zoet stuck out a leg to stop and set the tone for the night.
The longer it remained goalless, the better for the visitors, and PSV succeeded in playing the game on their terms. Midway through the first half there were cheers from the 2,700 visiting supporters as their team won another corner. The Calderon was getting worried, although the noise did pick up towards the break as Atletico pressed and both Griezmann and Saul Niguez had shots blocked by the well-organised visiting defence.
Into the second half and the game continued to simmer. PSV almost scored a crucial away goal when Jurgen Locadia's shot was touched onto a post by home goalkeeper Jan Oblak -- with the visitors just unable to scramble the rebound over the line. Up at the other end Atletico were making some half-chances, but Zoet saved comfortably from Griezmann and substitute Fernando Torres and into extra-time we went, with the home fans singing "Atletico until death" as play restarted.
The best chance in the added 30 minutes came after some pretty amazing work by Atletico midfielder Saul, who took on the PSV defence alone and set up another chance for Griezmann, but the shot went straight at Zoet again. The visitors' Mexican midfielder Andres Guardado almost won it on 117 minutes, but his 20-yarder curled just wide, forcing the first-ever Champions League knockout match to finish 0-0 after two legs.
The shoot-out saw some really high quality, with neither goalkeeper managing to keep any of the spot kicks out. Late substitute Narsingh was the unfortunate man to send his crashing back off the crossbar in the eighth round, and Juanfran then calmly netted, as for the second season in succession Atletico squeaked through at this stage of the competition in a shoot-out.
2. PSV plan almost works
PSV coach Phillip Cocu changed his team's shape to start three centre-backs and the move worked really well through the first half. Barring one early slip when Yannick Carrasco almost got in behind Jeffrey Bruma, the visitors were really well-organised and compact. The extra numbers in midfield, where Guardado covered well, also helped the Eredivisie champions stifle Atletico.
The counterattacking part of the plan was not working so well, until on the hour mark when a strong run by Davy Propper led to Locadia cutting in from the left wing and his curler brought the best from Oblak. The follow up fell to Luuk De Jong, but Filipe Luis was stationed perfectly to block it with a header. The visitors were looking so dangerous on the break that Simeone withdrew attacker Carrasco to send on extra holding midfield cover in Matias Kranevitter.
Even into extra time Cocu's disciplined team were giving Atletico a much bigger test than any recent opponent -- including Gary Neville's Valencia and Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid -- who were both beaten by Simeone's side since the first leg in Eindhoven.
PSV did tire in the added period, and were mostly in defensive mode. But it was still hard to believe this mature display from Cocu's young side came in the club's first Champions League knockout round tie in nine years.
3. Atletico still not clicking in attack in Europe
Given the goalless first leg, and the importance of an away goal for PSV, Atletico were always likely have plenty of the ball throughout the first half on Tuesday, but were not really sure how to use it. It seemed as if last month's Copa del Rey exit to Celta Vigo, also after a goalless first leg away, was on their mind through the early stages as they played very conservatively.
Simeone went with two mobile front men in Griezmann and Carrasco, just like their January visit to the Camp Nou in La Liga, but both were often isolated wide, and the home team lacked a penalty box presence. In deep midfield Augusto Fernandez, 30 next month, was having a difficult Champions League debut -- being robbed on the ball twice in the first half hour. The game management experience of the injured Tiago was really being missed.
Simeone's first substitution was to introduce fan favourite Torres for Augusto, an apparent attacking move which did not actually change much apart from upping the noise as Torres petitioned referee Mark Clattenburg for free kicks around the area without any success.
As the very supportive crowd urged their players forward, there were still some groans from the home fans as the ball was passed straight out of play. Simeone was frantically gesturing at his players to get them organised better with the ball, but still Atletico struggled to create clear chances. Even in extra time they were showing plenty of intent and energy -- especially the incredibly athletic Saul -- but not enough guile. By the end of the 120 minutes Atletico had managed 26 shots on goal, seven on target, but not one past Zoet.
Atletico have scored three times in each of their last three domestic outings, but only once now across their last six European knock-out games. Whoever Atletico face in the quarterfinals, they will need to show more creativity and ingenuity to go any further.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan