The first leg of this tie was truly classic Atléti under Simeone. 23 fouls committed with six yellow cards collected, and two goals scored, neither from open play. Not to say there's anything wrong with that, but it makes for a very unattractive match. And it played to Atléti's strengths. Let's see how it went down.
A late omission of Cristiano Ronaldo was a bit of a surprise in an otherwise predictable lineup for Madrid. Without No. 7, Ancelotti played a 4-4-2, and was it effective? In a word, no. James and Isco were out wide with the German duo of Khedira and Kroos in the middle, all behind Bale and Benzema.
Per WhoScored, this is how Madrid attacked spatially. These numbers show a complete disregard for the center of the pitch, and an over-reliance on the right side. Which meant Madrid leaned mostly on James, Khedira, and Arbeloa to produce offense. I shouldn't have to explain why this isn't a great idea. Khedira looked like the Sami Khedira of old, leading the team in interceptions and aerial balls won. But Sami Khedira isn't the guy to break through Atlético's brick wall midfield and defense. Álvaro Arbeloa is (unpopular opinion alert!) a fine player who is useful in his role, but he offers a fraction of the offensive power Dani Carvajal does.
However, I think the misusage of the center of the pitch was most egregious. Bale and Benzema hardly got the ball, getting only 35 and 29 touches apiece (for comparison, Marcelo had 107, Ramos 104, and Kroos 86). Bale nearly turned a long ball from Marcelo into a stunning volley, but pushed it wide. Benzema took only two shots, with only one hardly getting on target. And Bale and Benzema shouldn't be faulted for their performances, they simply didn't see the ball, and when they did, it was in a tough spot.
Marcelo and Isco provided the most creativity on the opposite side of the pitch, but they were outnumbered.
Thanks, again, to the folks at WhoScored, here's each player's average position. The left wing is highlighted to show how much attention Atléti gave the area, contrasted with how Isco and Marcelo were basically on their own. Both Isco and Marcelo showed some flair today, but whenever they got through, they were pragmatically fouled by one of Simeone's men, another staple of Simeone's style which is unattractive but useful.
Altéti were equally futile in attack, producing just nine shots, with only five coming from open play, and Madrid allowed them only 32 percent possession. This game seemed destined to be a businesslike 0-0 draw at the half, but Sergio Ramos had other ideas.
Ramos' penalty was a disaster, a blunder, and every other negative adjective you can think of. García wasn't even in a position to score. He probably could've even been unmarked and he wouldn't have scored. But Ramos cared not, and pulled him down anyway. The penalty was a tough break for Navas who guessed right but couldn't get a hand on it.
Atléti's ability to score on corners is stunning. It's easy to talk about it with contempt, but it's uncanny. Atlético are just fantastic on corners, and I'm not sure I know how they do it.
Time for Set Piece Defending 101. Take notes, there will be a test.
There are two basic tactics for defending corners: 1) man-to-man, and 2) zonally.
Real marked man-to-man with three spare defenders (Marcelo on near post, Bale on far post, and Ronaldo where a short corner would come in). This should be a recipe for a clearance, but Atléti's movement of everyone they have in the box is massive.
Atléti typically put the ball to the near post and send most of their men there. But here, Giménez was a step behind most of the foot-traffic, and when the ball came in, he allowed Ramos to run into the aforementioned foot-traffic. This basically set a pick for Giménez to be unmarked for a textbook header.
This type of movement on corners makes life really, really difficult to play man-on-man. Zonal corner defending is terrifying to watch, difficult to execute, and Ancelotti probably will not employ this going forward.
Real Madrid looked agitated, and Atlético thrived on it. The game had no flow (86 stoppages of play between fouls and throw-ins alone), and Atlético were glad. An hour went by before the referee booked an Atlético player (at the half Madrid had two yellows on five fouls, Atlético had zero on 14 fouls), but erratic officiating didn't cost Real the game. Countless unforced errors, zero creativity in the attacking third, and simple mistakes in defense cost Real the game.