Atlético hope to Curb Marseille Enthusiasm

When Atlético wheezed and panted their way into fourth place and the Champions League last season, their passport-waving fans must have imagined for several blissful moments that the new campaign would be all muffins in Milan and lager in London. Along with the occasional on-pitch pulverising by eight-foot tall Commies thrown in for good measure. But, with Atleti being Atleti being Atleti, things didn’t quite turn out as the long suffering supporters may have imagined. On a purely sporting sense, the club’s first Big League outing since 1897 has been a hats in the air roaring success with the rojiblancos qualifying for the next phase with a game to spare.

BOOM! Maxi goal at Anfield seals qualification  

Unfortunately, the combination of the bad luck that bedevils the Madrid side apparently tripling outside of Spain’s borders and the fact that Atleti is one super-sized episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, has meant that nearly every footstep involving foreign types has ended in farce and frustration.

With such classic episodes from last year still fresh in the mind such as “the one where Reyes claims he said ‘I s**t in my mother’s ****!’ to his manager, rather than ‘I s**t in your mother’s ****!’ ” the possibility for hijinks and hilarity were boundless in a very European Vacation way. However, the Champions League campaign began in a fairly routine fashion. A comfortable passage through the qualification phase started against Schalke 04 and was followed by an impressive 3-0 away win at PSV and a brace from Kun Agüero. But then, Atleti’s wheels started to wobble with what is now considered as a disastrous home tie against Marseille, which saw a win for the rojiblancos, on the pitch, but alleged chaos off it.

UEFA accused the club of all manner of crimes including racism, a lack of control over security forces and no Kit Kats in the vending machines - Michel Platini’s favourite half-time snack. The subsequent two-match stadium ban and fine was reduced to one, and then suspended to allow the visit of Liverpool to go off without incident.

Atlético see off PSV behind-closed-doors 

Of course, the excitement over this particular tie was the homecoming for Fernando Torres. Except the former Atleti captain was injured.

Instead, the Calderón crowd were entertained with Steven Gerrard strolling his way through a clash where both teams seemed quite content with playing out a draw.

Weeks later, another clash of the titans was missed with Torres still unfit for the tie against his former team, Kun left sulking on the bench and Atleti being robbed of victory at Anfield - in the footballing sense - by the iffiest of injury-time penalties. Match day five and it was time for Atlético to pucker up and do their time with a behind-closed-doors tie against PSV - a match on a freezing cold night that brought about their third win in the group. But, the story of their Champions League campaign doesn’t end their for the Larry David of La Liga. On Tuesday night, the Atlético players won’t only be looking to beat Marseille to finish top of their group, but also hoping they get back to Madrid in one piece. One of the biggest stories in Spain recently has been the uncharacteristically fast trial of, Marseille Ultra, Santos Mirasierra, who was sentenced to three and half years in prison last week for attacking stadium security officials during October’s Champions League clash at the Calderón.His sentence has brought anger and recriminations in France with the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Didier Drogba all having their say on the very non-footballing matter. And the Atlético players are about to walk straight into this Velodrome-sized controversy. Despite Ultra groups calling for “rage without violence” on Tuesday night during the Atlético clash, there are considerable worries in the Spanish press that the evening could go very Pete Tong in a heated atmosphere, with Marca accusing Marseille of hijacking the game to use as a tribute to Mirasierra. “It doesn’t seem appropriate that UEFA should tolerate these types of acts over a delinquent,” fumed the editorial of a paper suspecting that it will be one rule for Atleti and another for the French, with Platini.

Marseille fans protest against jailed Mirasierra 

To avoid unnecessary risk and discomfort, the Atlético party will be arriving in the city on Tuesday afternoon with an enormous security team waiting to greet them.

Javier Aguirre has attempted to lighten the mood by pointing out that “we are going to a civilised country, not Somalia.” However the rojiblanco coach admitted that he wanted “this chapter to be over.” “We’re not going to war, we’re travelling to play a game of football,” echoed, club president, Enrique Cerezo as he strapped on his flack jacket.Someone who is very much looking forward to the clash as a spectacle - mainly because he spends most matches gazing into the crowd anyway - is Georgios Seitaridis who predicts that it will be “a game to be enjoyed.” After three months of surprises and strange goings on, the rojiblanco party will be hoping that the end of season finale to Atlético’s Champions League group stage campaign will be a dull rather than dramatic affair.

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