Sticking to its plan, Atletico Madrid keeps surprising

It's getting harder and harder to bet against Atletico Madrid.

Diego Simeone's team continues to succeed against some of Europe's top teams, sticking to a simple formula executed to perfection: Tough defending and effective attacking, from start to finish.

Atletico's latest victim was Bayern Munich, which was beaten 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday.

It was Atletico Madrid at its best.

"We imposed our style of play," Simeone said. "It was a great match with two different teams trying to play their own game. We did our job and this result gives us the chance of going into Munich with possibilities."

The second leg is Tuesday, when Atletico will be trying to reach its second Champions League final in the last three seasons. On the other side, an offensive-minded Bayern will be looking to make it to the final for the first time since 2013, when it won the last of its five titles.

"We need to think about the team that we are playing against, the team that Atletico is," Bayern coach Pep Guardiola said. "They always defend very well, with many players back. It's not easy."

Guardiola will need to find a way to break through Simeone's defense and score at least a goal next week against a team that has kept a clean sheet in its last five games in all competitions. Atletico won its last three games 1-0, including Wednesday after Saul Niguez scored a sensational early goal and the defense held on for a sixth straight win.

"We wanted to win without conceding a goal and we succeeded," Atletico striker Antoine Griezmann said. "Everyone defended and everyone attacked. This demonstrates our strength and our mentality."

Atletico has become a force since the arrival of Simeone, the motivational former defensive midfielder for Argentina who brought in hard-working players who passionately abide to his team-first attitude. Despite not having the same financial power as Europe's top teams, Atletico has been able to thrive on Simeone's plan.

"The biggest achievement for Atletico is that now it can be compared to Barcelona and Real Madrid," Guardiola said before Wednesday's game. "This is Simeone's biggest achievement."

Atletico won the Europa League and the Super Cup in 2012, and in 2014 it won the Spanish league and reached the Champions League final with victories over AC Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea. It eventually lost the final to Real Madrid in a game it was winning until second-half injury time.

This season, Atletico eliminated Barcelona in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Spanish league.

Atletico is battling for the league title again this year, even with Barcelona at the top of the standings with three matches to go. The team plays Rayo Vallecano on Saturday at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.

"We have to keep on fighting," Atletico striker Fernando Torres said.


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