Tuesday April 14th, 2015

A compelling round of Champions League quarterfinal first legs did not produce many goals, but there was no shortage of drama as Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid drew 0-0, while Juventus edged out Monaco 1-0 in Turin. It’s all set up nicely for next week’s second legs:

Player of the Day: Jan Oblak, Atlético Madrid

Real Madrid could have been out of sight after a dominant first half at the Vicente Calderon in which it mustered more shots on target in the first three minutes, two,­ than it managed in the entirety of its league game here back in February. That Atlético is still in the tie is in part down to goalkeeper Jan Oblak, in only his second European start for the club.

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The 22-year-old set the tone for his night in the third minute with a fantastic stop from Gareth Bale, who was clean through on goal after Diego Godín’s error. He denied the same player from distance after half an hour, and as the visitors cranked up the pressure, he kept out two excellent efforts from James Rodriguez. Real Madrid ended the first 45 with 10 shots and still nothing to show for it. That was down to Oblak.

One of the reasons Atletico won La Liga last season and reached the Champions League final was its goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was on loan from Chelsea. His departure pushed Atletico into buying two goalkeepers last summer: Miguel Moya from Getafe and Oblak from Benfica. Moya started the season as No. 1, but was injured in the last Champions League tie, the round-of-16 second leg against Bayer Leverkusen. On came Oblak, who went on to save Bayer’s first penalty, from Hakan Calhanoglu, in a shootout to set up a dramatic win.

Clean sheets against Getafe, Cordoba and Real Sociedad pushed his minutes without a goal conceded to over 400 minutes (until Fernando Torres’s own goal last week at Malaga). Oblak has made a habit of waiting for his chance and then taking it. At Uniao de Leiria in 2011-12, his first appearance came on matchday 14, and he kept his place for the rest of the season. The same happened at Benfica last season; he started the season at Benfica B, was called into the A team after Moraes was injured in matchday 12, and he kept his place as the club won a historic league, Cup, and League Cup treble. Given how he has played with his chance under Diego Simeone Oblak could keep his place in this side for a while to come.

Moment of the Day: Morata wins Juventus's penalty

If Juventus thought it had the easy draw getting Monaco, it only took a few minutes to revise that view: goalkeeper Gigi Buffon had to keep out two efforts from Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco within the first 10 minutes. For much of the first half, in fact, Monaco looked the more dangerous, attacking smartly and at pace while defender Aymen Abdennour blocked everything at the other end.

Arturo Vidal had one chance late on in the first period, but missed from close range. He made no mistake in the second half, though, after Juventus was awarded a spot kick after a clash between Ricardo Carvalho and Alvaro Morata on the edge of the area. Replays showed the initial contact was outside the area, while French reporters were claiming that Morata actually tripped over his own feet.

This was Vidal’s chance to avenge his earlier miss, his skied penalty in the group stage against Olympiakos. Vidal prefers the Goalkeeper-Independent technique, so he picks his spot and smashes the ball regardless of where the keeper dives. Even if Danijel Subasic had gone the right way, he would not have stopped Vidal’s powerhouse of a penalty: high and to the keeper’s right. It was unstoppable.

Takeaway of the Day: Carlo Ancelotti breathes again

Atlético Madrid may have ended the game on top (considering it did not concede in the home leg), but for the first time this season, Real Madrid has not lost at the Calderon: its previous three games had ended in three defeats with a 7-0 aggregate score. Stopping that rot was key for Real Madrid and, even more so for Ancelotti, whose position as coach is as insecure as it was before last year’s Champions League final.

Victory then earned him another year in the capital, but defeat in this tie is likely to have the opposite effect. His team responded well despite that pressure, with the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and James dominating possession in the first half. Atletico was stronger in the second 45, but both teams will take the positive view from the game.

How the Second Legs Shape Up

Arsene Wenger moaned about it in the last round, and FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently said it was ready for a rethink, but the away goals rule tends to dominate at this stage of the competition. That’s why, for Atlético Madrid and Juventus, keeping a clean sheet was almost more important than scoring. Both sides will fancy scoring away from home: in the case of Atlético, it means that a 1-1 draw will be enough to see it into the last four.

Real Madrid has room for optimism too: its first-half midfield domination was a far cry from the 4-0 loss at the same stadium in February. After ‘crisis moments’ for Ronaldo and Bale earlier in the season, Tuesday it was Karim Benzema's turn to have a poor game; his touch was heavy, his decision-making off, and much of the post-mortem is likely to focus on his form.

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There may also be some fireworks in the second leg: Mario Mandzukic and Dani Carvajal were at each other’s throats in the second half.

“We are happy with the performance, and we just have to try and repeat that first half,” said Carlo Ancelotti after the game.

Marcelo (Real Madrid) and Mario Suarez (Atletico) picked up second yellow cards and will miss the second leg. If it was hard to call before the game, it’s on a knife-edge now.

Juventus has the edge in the other tie, but Monaco gave it plenty to think about. The good news for the Italians is that the Principality side is better away from home than at its own Stade Louis II: 10 Ligue 1 wins on the road compared to six at home (only Barcelona and Real Madrid has won more on the road). Its average crowd for home matches is 7,901, only 43 percent of the 19,000 capacity ­ and only games against PSG and Marseille have brought it over 10,000.

Next week might be another such occasion, but the away side will expect to finish off the job.

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