Real Madrid: Reminiscing the brilliant midfield against Atletico - UCL semi-final 2016/17 2nd leg
Updated: May 13
May 10, 2020. Three years ago, during the 2016/17 season, Real Madrid went to the Vicente Calderon for the 2nd leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final match against Atletico Madrid. What Los Blancos fans witnessed next was a masterclass in midfield performance and a brilliant game management showcase by the trio of Modric, Kroos, and Isco.
Setting the stage
UCL semi-final 1st leg result: Real Madrid 3 - 0 Atletico Madrid
UCL semi-final 2nd leg:
Atletico Madrid came out all guns blazing. They were three goals down after the first leg and knew they had to put in a fiery performance to overcome the deficit. The Rojiblancos were running riot at Los Blancos. El Calderon was a hostile environment for the men in white.
Atleti was first to every second ball, won every 50-50 tackles, and overall caused all sorts of problems to their city rivals. Yannick Carrasco looked like a man possessed, ran at Real's defense, and created all kinds of chaos. Saul Niguez was incredible. Koke was equally impressive.
Their intensity and commitment right out of the gate led to an early goal when Saul headed the ball into the bottom right following Koke's corner in the 12th minute. Nine minutes later, Atletico doubled their score when Raphael Varane brought Fernando Torres down in the penalty box. Antoine Greizmann stepped up and slotted the ball past Navas.
The scoreline was 2 - 0 in favor of Diego Simeone's men inside 22 minutes. They had reduced the first leg deficit to just one goal. Atletico was in prime position to make a comeback of the ages. Zinedine Zidane needed his men to step up their game or the opportunity to be back in the final of the Champions league was looking like a distant future. He needed someone to take charge of the game, and in came the midfielders.
The first 25 minutes of the game belonged to the Rojiblancos. They set the tempo and controlled the game. Then, the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Isco took the chains and locked down the center of the pitch. The rest of the game belonged to Real Madrid. The Royal Whites knew that they needed one goal to knock the wind off Simeone's men. That all-important goal came in the 42nd minute.
Cristiano Ronaldo took a quick throw in to find Karim Benzema. The French forward held the ball up against three Atletico players, trapped near the corner flag. Even with the odds against his favor, Benzema schooled Diego Godin, Stefan Savic, and Jose Maria Gimenez with quick feet and went past them in style. It ultimately led to Isco scoring a rebound following a Kroos strike from the top of the box. This sequence is probably the most memorable moment in the game, while rightly so, the mastery of game management shown by the trio of Modric, Kroos, and Isco in the second half is a beauty of its own.
In the second half, Real Madrid was in cruise control. Modric was everywhere and funneling possession with ease. It was amazing to watch. He decided to take on the responsibility of easing Los Blancos of the pressure. He demanded the ball at his feet, even when marked, and got the team out of trouble on multiple occasions. It was a beautiful display of football. He completed nine dribbles on the night and 70 passes at a solid 93% completion rate.
The Croatian wasn't alone in his heroics. Kroos helped set the tempo in the second half and slowed down any chance Atletico had of coming back in the game. The German had five key passes to his name; he completed 72 passes at a tremendous completion rate of 96%. His efficiency was at its peak.
And then there was the Man of the Match Isco. He was equally impressive at getting Real Madrid out of tight spots and relieving his teammates of Atletico's press. The former Malaga playmaker also completed game-high nine dribbles, had three key passes, and scored an all-important away goal that crushed Rojiblancos' soul. The 'Magia' was fantastic on the night and was having his best season to date. Modric, Kroos, and Isco were the three highest-rated players of the match by Whoscored.com with 8.1, 7.8, and 8.9 ratings, respectively.
Real Madrid won the two-legged tie 4 - 2 and was through to the final. Modric, Kroos, and Isco were in the heart of a magnificent midfield display, in front of a hostile crowd, on this night three years ago.