Atletico Madrid kick-started their UEFA Champions League campaign with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven during a cold Tuesday night at the Philips Stadion.
It was young Saul Niguez who found the back of the net just before half-time, after Phillip Cocu's side had failed to get rid of a corner properly enough as it was left to bobble around in the box, leaving the Spaniard to capitalize with an impressive left-footed volley.
PSV happy to defend deep
Cocu's men commenced with an adherence to a defensive 3-5-2 formation, after having effectively utilized a 4-3-3 shape against NEC Nijmegen last week, as Joshua Brenet and Jetro Willems starting at right wing back and left wing back respectively. The duo of Luciano Narsingh and Dutch star Luuk de Jong started up top, with Daniel Schwaab slotting in at centre-back.
Los Colchoneros started with a familiar 4-4-2 formation, with Kevin Gameiro replacing Fernando Torres from their clash at home to Celta Vigo last week. Nicolas Gaitan started on the right flank, while Koke replaced Yannick Ferreira Carrasco on the left wing.
Almost an early break-through for the hosts
The mid-block pressing style that PSV used with the help of the three in the midfield allowed them to restrict Atletico in the midfield, as Simeone's men looked outnumbered when operating in front of the back five. It was clear that PSV were happy to concede possession and play on the break by using Narsingh's burst of pace up front, and careless Atletico passing at the back allowed PSV to win a corner.
As a corner was cleared, Andres Cuadrado's cross from the left was headed on by Hector Moreno and found the unmarked Luuk de Jong, who scored from close range. As the men from Netherlands stormed towards the corner flag to celebrate, they saw that the referee had flagged the goal as offside.
PSV stifled Atletico Madrid in the midfield, denying them any amount of space or time to work with in front of the back five. Saul Niguez's shot from the edge of the box in the 13th minute showed that Diego Simeone's men were struggling to break down the PSV midfield, let alone defence.
Around the 20th minute, Atleti came close to scoring from a set-piece but Diego Godin's header, that met Antoine Griezmann's well taken free-kick, went wide of Jeroen Zoet's goal.
As the game wore on in the first half, Narsingh dropped into the midfield, acting almost like a number ten to press Gabi, who was attempting to dictate play from deep for the men from the Spanish capital.This made the game more midfield dominated as ever, with balls being won and lost in the middle of the park and either side not being able to take control of the play. And PSV seemed the more happier team with that.
Atleti begin to take control
Atletico somehow churned out an opportunity in the 38th minute, as Nicolas Gaitan floated in a wonderful cross towards Gameiro from the right, but before it could reach the former Sevilla man and lead to a tap-in, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin cleared to safety.
The midfield-dominated nature of the game forced PSV to withdraw themselves from keeping the deep defensive line and keep a high line. Griezmann's movement in front of the back five opened up the more attacking side of the game, as the PSV compact midfield began to get dragged out of position. Some lovely movement by the little Frenchman saw him pick out his compatriot Gameiro, who could fire just over the bar.
Some scuffle and confusion in the box after PSV failed to clear a corner, lead to Saul latching onto a loose ball with a left-footed volley to find the back of the net in the 43rd minute. Amidst all the confusion in the box, Davy Propper and Jose Maria Giminez had clashed with their heads, as the PSV midfielder witnessed a stream of rushing across his head; Atletico Madrid had drawn first blood.
Conceding seemed to have spurred PSV on as they looked to move forward in numbers at the stroke of half time. The move from Cocu paid off as Narsingh won a penalty out of what seemed like a blatant dive, if not for referee Martin Atkinson judging it as a Giminez foul.
The experienced Andres Guardado stepped up in attempt to draw PSV level, there was already a feeling that the score was 1-1 before it actually was so. But a superb save from Atleti stopper Jan Oblak denied a penalty that was heading into the top right corner.
Cocu's men change to keeping a high line
The second half saw PSV make more usage of the high-line in order to push forward while taking possession of the ball more than they did in the first half. The Dutch champions began knocking more balls to Luuk de Jong, who was seemingly well marked by Godin and Giminez. This approach made Atletico a threat on the break and they nearly scored the second through Gameiro, who skied the effort over the bar after a mix up in the PSV box.
As PSV began to control the game and attempted to build from the back, they often resorted to finding De Jong up front. The former Borussia Monchengladbach star came close to equalizing as his header sailed just wide of Oblak goal, after he had met Joshua Brenet's cross from the right almost perfectly.
A minute later, Atletico saw the opportunity to break and it was Griezmann's incisive movement again that brought problems for the now-stretched PSV back five. Gameiro, who had made a run wide was picked out by the former Real Sociedad man, before he laid it back to Griezmann, who failed to get it on target.
PSV's golden opportunity to equalize came in the 75th minute, but a brilliant block from Giminez before Narsingh could beat Oblak saw PSV settle for a corner out a counter that could've been more fruitful than it proved to be.
As PSV pushed on, Atletio receded into their own half, happy to sit on their lead and do what they've been known for- defend deep and look to play on the break. Before De Jong nodded wide of the goal thrice, the best chance of the game fell to substitute Gaston Pereiro in the first minute of stoppage time, as the 21-year-old failed to put away an inch-perfect Jetro Willems cross from close range.
As the time was on the essence, PSV swarmed forward in numbers. But Atletico Madrid held on, claiming their first three points of the new Champions League campaign rather proudly and deservedly.