LEVERKUSEN, Germany (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone praised his team for perfectly executing his game plan in their 4-2 Champions League victory at Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday and said the scoreline should have been even higher.
Atletico ripped the Leverkusen defence to shreds with a string of lethal counter-attacks in the last-16 first leg, making the most of an erratic backline.
”We could even have won by a higher margin but their goalkeeper pulled off two outstanding saves to deny (Antoine) Griezmann,“ said Simeone. ”It is important to have belief when you play away from home, and I thought we had that in abundance.
“We thought before the game that, if we attacked down our left side, we would cause their right-footed defenders problems,” he said.
“That is exactly what we did. Leverkusen fought their way back into the game in the second half but overall it is a very satisfying evening for us.”
Atletico took a two-goal lead through Griezmann and Saul Niguez and scored again each time the Bundesliga club battled back and cut the deficit.
Griezmann’s goal, his 13th in the Champions League also made the Frenchman his club’s top scorer in the competition.
“For us it was an unusual game. We did it perfectly in the first half. We were intelligent and smart,” Simeone said. “They came back in the second half but we kept at our plan until the end.”
The Spaniards also hit the woodwork and Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno denied them twice more in one-on-one situations to give the German side a sliver of hope for the return leg on March 15.
Atletico, finalists in 2014 and 2016, are now eyeing their ninth last-eight appearance while Leverkusen, who have never advanced past this stage, have their work cut out for next month.
”The important thing for us is that we continue to improve,“ Simeone said. ”It is important not to concede that many goals at this stage of the tournament, so that is something we need to work on.
“Leverkusen have nothing to lose in the second leg, so we need to be careful,” warned Simeone. “Even so, we can be very pleased with our efforts this evening.”
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Clare Fallon