Champions League: Advantage Atletico after 4-2 win

Saul Niguez, Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres scored for Atletico Madrid.

Antoine Griezmann celebrates after scoring for Atletico Madrid in the first leg last-16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen.   -  Reuters

Atletico Madrid is in pole position for a Champions League quarterfinal berth after recording a 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the first leg of  its last-16 tie at the BayArena.

Leverkusen was gunning for revenge after its European elimination at the hands of Atleti in 2014-15, and it had every reason to be confident following an eight-game unbeaten run in the Champions League, with only Real Madrid on a longer streak.

However, the visitor made an electric start, Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann putting them two goals up at half-time, before Karim Bellarabi pulled one back early in the second half.

Stefan Savic's own-goal after a Kevin Gameiro penalty prompted a late onslaught from Leverkusen, but Atleti was always dangerous on the break and Fernando Torres' late header restored its two-goal cushion.

A heavy home defeat leaves Leverkusen's chances of progression hanging by a thread in an underwhelming season that has seen head coach Roger Schmidt fight off reports that he could be sacked.

Diego Simeone's side have also struggled to replicate its best form this term, and its new-found defensive frailties was on display again, but a scintillating attacking display bodes well for the weekend's clash with Barcelona.

Atletico immediately pinned Leverkusen back in its half from the off and came close to opening the scoring twice in rapid succession after just 12 minutes.

Griezmann first called goalkeeper Bernd Leno into action with a low show from a narrow angle, before Wendell hit his own crossbar moments later with a clumsy clearance after Filipe Luis' cross from the left.

There was no such escape for the host five minutes later, however, as Saul handed Atletico the lead with a stunning strike, cutting inside onto his favoured left foot and curling a beautiful shot into the top corner past the helpless Leno.

Things went from bad to worse for Leverkusen as Aleksandar Dragovic inadvertently sent Gameiro on his way with a poor clearance on the halfway line and the Frenchman raced clear before setting up Griezmann for a composed finish inside the box.

Griezmann should have made it three following more good work from Gameiro after yet another rapid counter-attack, but Leno pulled off a sharp save to deny him.

Leverkusen seemed emboldened by that lifeline and Bellarabi gave them hope when he pounced on Benjamin Henrichs's low cross from the right and beat goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya with a clever finish in the far corner.

Gameiro rattled the crossbar soon after as Leverkusen's vulnerability on the break was laid bare and the France striker had his goal in the 58th minute — slamming home from the penalty spot after he was hauled to the floor by Dragovic.

Again Schmidt's side was back in the contest when Moya could only palm a cross into Savic's shins and the ball bobbled home, but Leverkusen's desperation to level the tie would ultimately cost them.

Torres dealt Leverkusen a hammer blow with five minutes left on the clock, heading smartly across Leno and in from a sublime Sime Vrsaljko cross to give last season's runners-up control of this tie.

KEY OPTA STATS

- Antoine Griezmann has scored 11 times for Atletico Madrid since the start of last season’s Champions League, six more than any other player for the club. 

- Atletico scored four goals in an away Champions League match for the first time since September 1996 (4-1 v Widzew Lodz). 

- All five of Saul Niguez’s Champions League goals have been the opening goal of those games. 

- Karim Bellarabi scored his first Champions League goal since March 2012 (7-1 loss to Barcelona). 

- Kai Havertz became the youngest starter for Bayer Leverkusen in a Champions League match (17y 255d) and the second youngest German to do so after Julian Draxler.

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