Real Madrid’s midfield
There is a good case to be made for Real Madrid currently possessing the best midfield in the world. In Kroos they have a metronomic player that is not only technically proficient and clever, but is also physically imposing. Casemiro has a fantastic engine and a composure on the ball that makes him a threat on both sides of the pitch. In Luka Modric, Real Madrid have the single most complete midfielder in world football right now. As if this wasn’t enough, Zidane decided to add Isco – a great player in his own right – to Real’s starting lineup. With the Spaniard given license to drift everywhere, Atletico’s midfield never came to grips with the game. Even though Simeone ended up substituting Carrasco and Saul, the truth is they were no worse than Gabi and Koke on the night. Atletico’s midfield was outthought, outfought and outplayed.
Atletico were shadows of themselves
Tactics aside, Atletico Madrid were really not at the races on Tuesday evening. Simeone’s men have carved themselves a reputation for being warriors on the pitch. Under the Argentine coach, Atletico have gone toe to toe with Europe’s finest without a care for reputation. Theirs has been a story of hard work, tenacity and grit. While there is no denying the fact that Real Madrid was going into this game as favorites, one would have expected a lot more fight and resistance from their city rivals. No one exemplified this baffling performance more than Koke. Three years ago, the versatile midfielder was arguably the most coveted player in Atletico after Diego Costa. He was hailed as the future of the Spanish midfield and Xavi’s heir apparent. For whatever reason, his career hasn’t progressed the way most would have predicted and against stellar opposition he failed to make his mark.
3-4-3 yields benefits for Juve
Juventus have often deployed a 4-2-3-1 shape in this season’s campaign. For Wednesday’s match up against Monaco, Allegri brought in the 35-year old Barzagli to accompany Bonucci and Chiellini in the center of defence. This effectively freed up Alex Sandro and Dani Alves to play higher up the pitch as wing backs. This tactical shift had the dual effect of forcing Monaco’s fullbacks to play on the back foot as well as making sure Monaco couldn’t attack on the wings as they like to do. Mendy was clearly a big miss for the French side, but Juventus’ tactics completely nullified the opposition.
Experience trumps exuberance
Juventus and Monaco was always going to be an intriguing match-up as it pitted the Old Lady against Monaco’s fledglings. This was Europe’s most exciting side versus its most formidable defence. The proverbial unstoppable force meets immovable object. Juventus’ pedigree proved to be vital on the day as Monaco couldn’t inflict any damage despite all their efforts. While Dani Alves and Higuain were the standout players, the likes of Bonucci, Barzagli, and Buffon showed their class yet again. The good news for Monaco is that their side – provided they can stay together – will get more chances to excite fans and neutrals alike in the future
What more can he do?
Just when you thought Ronaldo had no more ways to astound football fans, he did it again. With his hat trick against Atletico Madrid – his second hat trick against them this season – Ronaldo scored his eighth goal of the knockout stages. With his five assists, no player has been directly involved in more goals in this season’s Champion’s League. This also took him to 103 Champions League goals, which is nine more than his closest competitor and eternal rival, Messi. Now it is clear is that he is no longer as dangerous as he used to be as a total attacking force. But as his performance against Atletico showed, he hasn’t lost his ability to influence games at the highest level. Just like Messi, he has already written his name in the history books – it’s just simply a matter of seeing which records he can still break or set.