The FourFourTwo Preview: Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea
Like a pair of drunken sixth-formers at the Christmas ball, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea just can’t leave each other alone. The tug of love between the semi-finalists has built steadily since 2011 when Blues keeper Thibaut Courtois first joined los Colchoneros on loan; the two capital clubs now meeting in the last four of the Champions League with a handful of players with opposition ties.
ATLETICO MADRID FORM
- Atletico 2-0 Elche (Lge)
- Getafe 0-2 Atletico (Lge)
- Atletico 1-0 Barca (Cup)
- Atletico 1-0 Villarreal (Lge)
- Barca 1-1 Atletico (Cup)
- Chelsea 1-2 S'land (Lge)
- Swansea 0-1 Chelsea (Lge)
- Chelsea 2-0 PSG (Cup)
- Chelsea 3-0 Stoke (Lge)
- PSG 3-1 Chelsea (Cup)
For the sake of this analogy, midfield waddler Maniche – who has played for both clubs – is the kindly, if overweight, geek who only ventures from the corner of the dance floor to sample the Iceland-bought nibbles.
A cross between Luis Suarez’s brutal will to win and Didier Drogba’s prodigious physicality, Diego Costa sits atop Chelsea’s shopping list. With Jose Mourinho admitting to being in desperate need of a striker next season, the Brazilian-born Spaniard carries precisely the attributes so favoured of the Special One.
If the rumour mill is to be believed – something of a leap of faith, admittedly – then a £50 million bid will be enough for the 25-year-old to be plying his trade at Stamford Bridge next season, potentially with ex-Colchonero captain Fernando Torres going the other way.
Throw in Atletico boss Diego Simeone, himself briefly linked to Chelsea before Mourinho’s return last season, and Atleti midfielder Tiago, who had one inauspicious season at the Bridge in 2004/05, and there’s a familiar feeling to the two teams.
The Spanish leaders have won their previous eight games and knocked out European behemoths Barcelona. They may be underdogs, but Simeone’s side play that role better than any team in Europe.
They regularly see less of the ball than the opposition, but midfield anchor and captain Gabi, 'new Xavi' Koke and silky wide-man Arda Turan – should he be fit – counter-attack at dizzying speed.
Mourinho somehow managed to lose his 77-game unbeaten home record to, of all teams, bottom club Sunderland at the weekend, but Chelsea have suffered only three Premier League defeats since December and are fresh from that stunning comeback against PSG.
Say what you like about Mourinho teams; the Blues have a winning mentality and desire to prove their doubters wrong. Combined with a particularly fluid midfield and an improving David Luiz in front of the back four, you wouldn’t put it past them going all the way.
When the pair last met, in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup final, Atletico won 4-1 thanks to the irrepressible Radamel Falcao, another former (who knows, maybe even still current) Chelsea target who spelt the beginning of the end of Roberto Di Matteo’s spell in the dugout.
Over the next two legs, this could be a one-night stand that turns into a full-blown affair.
Key battle: Koke vs Cesar Azpilicueta
In keeping with the Spanish tradition of interiores - centre-midfielders who have a nominally wide starting position - Koke will come face-to-face with the area of Mourinho's team that has most impressed this season. With well-built full-back Branislav Ivanovic suspended for the first leg at the Vicente Calderon, Azpilicueta is likely to swap wings to the right (his natural side, don't forget) with Ashley Cole getting a rare start at left-back.
Though he may start on the right of midfield if Simeone risks the fit-again Arda Turan down the left, Koke is a natural-born creator who leads La Liga's assists table with 13 and has a panoramic passing range. Yet, the 22-year-old, who created 3 chances and scored in the second leg of the Barcelona quarter-final on the left of midfield, must ensure he retains some width, regardless of side he plays, so as to curb the attacking intent of either Azpilicueta or Cole. You feel that battle, and who keeps best control of whom, will go a long way to deciding the game's outcome.
A self-confessed disciplinarian who “played as if holding a knife between my teeth”, Simeone is arguably football’s hottest young coach, a title Mourinho has previously held himself. Both cut a dash in the technical area: Simeone a shock of jet black hair to Mourinho’s silver fox. Both also produce supremely effective counter-attacking units that suffocate the opposition and want the opposition to come on to them, not vice versa. It promises to be arguably the most intriguing game of this season’s competition.
Facts and figures
- Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 15 clashes with Spanish sides in the Champions League (W6 D9), their last defeat coming against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in February 2006.
- Chelsea are unbeaten against Atletico in the CL (W1 D1); having met in the 2009/10 group stages.
- The three competitive encounters between Atletico and Chelsea have produced 13 goals.
- Atletico have won 2 of their last 3 games against English sides in European competition (L1).
- The Madrid club have travelled to England 9 times previously in European competition (excluding qualifiers); winning only 1 (at Leicester in September 1997).
- Chelsea have reached the semi-finals for the seventh time since 2003/04 (joint-highest with Barcelona).
- Chelsea have only lost 1 of their last 10 CL matches in the knockout stages (1-3 vs PSG this season).
- Thibaut Courtois has saved 82.1% of shots faced in the CL this season; Petr Cech has saved 76.7%.
- Mourinho won 3 of his 4 meetings with Simeone's Atletico in all competitions when at Real Madrid (L1).
- Demba Ba has scored in his last 3 CL games. He finds the net every 47 minutes on average this season, the best ratio of any player with more than 1 goal in the competition.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Atleti to win, but Chelsea to get a vital away goal. 2-1.