Narrow defeat in Madrid isn’t the end for Leicester – but Atletico’s resolute record means 1-0 may already be enough


Craig Shakespeare was not amused, either with the referee for the Antoine Griezmann penalty decision or the Spanish journalist who claimed he wasn’t making a play on the Leicester City manager’s name by asking “to stay or not to stay” in the competition. The more pertinent question, however, is how happy he and his side should really be with the 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid.

It is one of those enticingly balanced scorelines where both teams could declare themselves content, and both pretty much did precisely that even if Shakespeare remained irritated at the decisive decision.

“I think 1-0, we’d have probably taken that before the game,” he said. “We’ve come here to try and get the away goal. You saw what a top team Madrid are. We’ve come away, we have a good home record at the King Power, and the tie’s still alive.”

Diego Simeone expressed a similar sentiment, if from a different vantage point.

“You always want a bigger result, obviously. But once again, we were playing a team that knows exactly what they want, knows exactly how they play, does not change the way it plays despite the result, I’m happy with the work rate of my own team. It does not surprise me that it was a short result.”

That compromised contentment was not a surprise either. Atletico had the win and hadn’t conceded the away goal, but their frustration was that they hadn’t racked up the more comfortable scoreline they probably should have from the commanding way they played the first half. It’s the type of thing that can create a bit of psychological doubt in cup competitions, leaving the seed in the mind that you could end up ruing those misses, especially if there are suddenly a few breaks for the opposition in the second leg. Filipe Luis seemed to be getting at precisely that in the mixed zone.

“The Champions League is like that,” the Atletico full-back said. “One bad half-hour, and you’re out.”

Leicester could meanwhile be happy that they shored up the holes in their defence and came away with a healthy enough defeat that could have been a lot worse, but their frustration was that they didn’t get that away goal and that Atletico’s strike came in a break going against them. Leicester know well from their last-16 tie against Sevilla how much such moments can play on minds, and foster a persuasive sense of fate about things – except this time in the negative. The bounce for once went against them.

Given all of that, it was little wonder that the two managers’ feelings on what the game meant were so similar, and Simeone outright said “the tie is open, 50-50”.

Those are the emotion-influenced take-homes that come from subjective impressions of your own team, though, so what are actual facts?

How good is a 1-0 home win for Atletico, and 1-0 away defeat for Leicester?

Well, it’s not 50-50.

The penalty decision irked Leicester ()

Recent European history actually suggests it is around 67-33 in favour of Atletico. That first figure, 67%, represents the amount of times the winners at home in the first leg go through. It also reflects the psychological power of an away goal given that a 2-1 win only sees the home side go through around 57% of times, even though the initial task for the opposition in the second leg is the same: they must at least score, while running the risk of an away goal.

It was something that Sir Alex Ferguson belatedly realised in the late 1990s, that even cleansheets away from home in Europe are not that good if you don’t actually score.

The further problem for Leicester is how much Atletico themselves should further skew that stat, by how their immense defensive resilience skews games.

For all the talk of the negative effects of psychology amid the nuances of knock-out football, Atletico appear almost immune to it – unless they are facing Real Madrid in Europe. This is a side that just doesn’t go out after they win first legs and, on the one occasion they did only win by 1-0, they still knocked out a side as sensational in attack as Bayern Munich last season.

Then there’s the fact Simeone’s various defences have only conceded seven goals in 16 Champions League knock-out matches since he took over, with the current backline right now on a run of six cleansheets in eight games.

It’s also not like they will be getting carried away with a mere 1-0 or leaving themselves open in the way Sevilla did. This is a team that prepares meticulously, only emboldening that impressive psychological intensity, as Filipe Luis also revealed after the game.

“We had it very clear what it would be like,” he said of the first leg. We watched so many videos, we had all the information possible, and that was exactly the game we were expecting.

“We have to change our game when we face a team that sits back. It was a different way of preparing than for a match against Bayern or Barca or Madrid. So, when it’s a team that gives us the initiative of the ball, we have to get into our heads to try and create chances with it, so it was different for us.”

Leicester fans sing Gibraltar songs in Madrid before Champions League tie

A further consequence is that it will mean Atletico can play their more natural game for the second leg, with the onus now on Leicester to attack, while leaving themselves open to those cut-throat counter-attacks – and that without the suspended Robert Huth.

That above anything else means the moods should also be slightly different about the score.

Leicester should still be happy with everything but the referee… but Atletico Madrid can still be happier with what the final score means.

Their Champions League records over the last four years also mean a lot more than Leicester’s over their last four home games.

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