Old dogs, meet new tricks. RB Leipzig will meet Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-final after a dramatic belated win from substitute Tyler Adams, whose goal is to defeat resilient but equally compelling Atlético Madrid.
Dani Olmo opened the scoring early but João Félix’s penalty seemed to have forced extra time in Lisbon. Atlético looked to be the more winners but Leipzig, who barely missed Chelsea̵7;s Timo Werner, found the added edge. Love them or hate them, they add a new life to the last four.
In preparation for Leipzig for their journey through undiscovered waters, Julian Nagelsmann chose to go back over the years. That is of course only relative to the club’s nascent age, but Werner’s replacement is their closest thing to an all-seen totem. Yussuf Poulsen, who was probably their first “statement” signing when he joined the third division in 2013, was tasked with leading the squad and also wearing the captain’s armband.
A bit of experience seems to match with the secret that Diego Simeone’s bony machine, once it has risen on its own, will navigate its way during this phase. But Leipzig started with the rhythm and freshness is becoming familiar; when they miss a great opportunity to score within four minutes it has little to do with reshaping their strikers.
Chances fell to Marcel Halstenberg, their left-back, after Renan Lodi had a malicious pass from Dani Olmo. He was more than 8 meters away and had a clear view of the goal, but the volley shot past the crossbar and Atlético was invited to dive in.
At the moment, Leipzig kept pushing, Dayot Upamecano deliberately put the ball out of the defense and passed Angeliño in an inaccurate attempt to make Kieran Trippier break through. Atlético had problems with his own squad, key striker Ángel Correa joined Sime Vrsaljko missed out after testing positive for Covid-19, and continued to be tested for his well-structured movement clear of the opponent.
However, when Atlético showed the initiative, Stefan Savic headed for Peter Gulacsi. They then earned a corner and José Giménez plunged into the serve, seeing his header blocked off in empty distance. Saúl Ñíguez and Gulacsi chased the ball loosely, the Spain international fell. On the other side, Simeone let out a murderous scream and executed his own VAR signal. An inspection ensued, taking more than two minutes in the background while the match continued and it was decided that any slight contact from Gulacsi was irrelevant.
The pace was down, Leipzig showed that they were happy to let Atlético split the ball properly. That meant the first half had turned into a slight struggle between teams knowing the cost of a counterattack. Pledged to remain at the required full of blood in any Simeone-coached match, a tearful aerial clash between Halstenberg and Savic resulted in a long pause before the latter returned in ice. Aside from a downward header from Upamecano, which rises up to meet another piece of the puzzle, flies straight at Jan Oblak gratefully, there’s little else to suggest that the game could open up anytime soon.
Then thank God for the wonderful things that a break in between can work. Leipzig came on as they did in the opening phase, passed the ball from side to side, and had a fantastic goal. The construction process is very hard: nothing fancy but accurate, smart enough and patient enough to wait until Marcel Sabitzer has the right space to deliver. His cross required great responses from Olmo, ran in relatively close positions, and carried them sensibly. Olmo’s header, comfortably tilting past Oblak, is perfect and if Simeone hopes to produce a result then this header will no longer continue.
Upamecano excelled in trying to double the gap, but Oblak kept it off. Simeone immediately introduced Félix and the 20-year-old made a completely dull performance. First, he played in Lodi, who fell in the box with Upamecano close but was in the right place for a serious dive. Atlético barely attack at the door, but Félix has instilled their personality in their attacks and he finds himself clear one-two after. Lucas Klostermann cut the ball on him and this time the penalty was clear. So was Félix’s head when he defeated Gulacsi on the spot.
Leipzig threatened the goal despite being conceded by Poulsen, slashing a throw-in, and summoning Werner’s ghost for the first time. Once granted, it is Atlético that has menacing sparkling attacks. Yannick Carrasco, previously invisible, saw a shot that was deflected but then saw his team get denied by an even more important shot.
Adams, found 20 meters after Sabitzer and Angeliño’s fine play, made a dribble and saw a strong touch with Savic that left Oblak out of sight. It was the first American goal for Leipzig and history is made.