The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid
Is 0-0 a good result for the away side in Europe these days? According to our latest memo, not especially, with two-thirds of teams eliminated following a first-leg bore draw on the road. But would Jose Mourinho have taken that scoreline before kick-off at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday night? You betcha.
- Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea (Lge)
- Atletico 0-0 Chelsea (Cup)
- Chelsea 1-2 S'land (Lge)
- Swansea 0-1 Chelsea (Lge)
- Chelsea 2-0 PSG (Cup)
ATLETICO MADRID FORM
- Valencia 0-1 Atletico (Lge)
- Atletico 0-0 Chelsea (Cup)
- Atletico 2-0 Elche (Lge)
- Getafe 0-2 Atletico (Lge)
- Atletico 1-0 Barca (Cup)
This Chelsea squad has been here a few times before, remember, as recently as PSG in the previous round when they overturned a 3-1 deficit to progress.
If the second leg's at Stamford Bridge, the Blues will always fancy their chances, especially against an Atletico Madrid side lacking experience at this stage of the competition, and with one eye on a first Spanish title since 1996.
Of course, Chelsea are still in a title race themselves after seeing off Liverpool. That said, Jose's priority still seems to lie with Europe's top prize, where he's bidding to become the first manager to win it with three different clubs.
Suspensions, red cards and injuries have been par for the course in the Blues' previous Champions League semis – John Terry having ticked all three boxes – but the team news isn't all doom and gloom.
Their Captain-Leader-Legend (ankle) was expected to be out for the season but has since trained ahead of the return leg, while goalkeeper Petr Cech (shoulder) has miraculously been declared fit despite being ruled out for the rest of the season.
Branislav Ivanovic is back from suspension so could take Terry's place at centre-back, with Ashley Cole continuing at left-back and Cesar Azpilicueta on the right.
Further upfield, Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel are suspended, while Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah are cup-tied, but, crucially, Samuel Eto'o (knee) and Eden Hazard (calf) are expected to be fit.
Eto'o has become the go-to goalscorer at the Bridge, while creator-in-chief Hazard's unpredictability in the final third was badly missed in the defeat to Sunderland, as well as at the Calderon.
Assuming the pair recover, they will most likely fill the spaces around Willian and Oscar/Andre Schurrle, ahead of Brazilian shields Ramires and David Luiz. Selection crisis? Hardly.
Reasons to be positive then, but nothing can be taken for granted against Diego Simeone's Mattress Makers, whose rise to the summit in Spain has been as eyebrow-raising as Liverpool's in England.
With a four-point lead in the title race and three games to play, no one back home is underestimating them anymore, not least the Madrid press who are convinced they will reach the Lisbon final.
AS tore into Mourinho's side for having "half a dozen players disguised as building site labourers" before declaring: "Lisbon is no further away [for Atletico] – if anything, it’s closer and the last stop is London."
Simeone's side might not be as prolific or as easy on the eye as their La Liga rivals Real Madrid or Barcelona, but they always seem to find a way to score, with their street-fighting striker Diego Costa usually the one doing whatever it takes to force that ball into the opposition goal. Los Rojiblancos have found the net in every Champions League away game this season, and know if they can continue that run at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will need to score at least twice.
The visitors have no injury concerns as they approach what could be the most historic month in the club's 110-year history, although skipper Gabi is suspended following his yellow card in the first leg. Influential winger Arda Turan, who returned from a groin injury as a second-half substitute in that fixture, will surely start in SW6. A key component of Atletico's counter-attacking game, Simeone's side stepped up a gear after his arrival.
Key battle: Gary Cahill vs Diego Costa
Cahill has been superb all season in tandem with Terry, and didn't put a foot wrong at the Calderon, making more clearances than any player on the pitch (15), while proving as much of a threat in the opposition area as any of his team-mates (which, admittedly, isn't saying much).
The regular presence of Terry alongside him has seen Cahill's positioning and concentration improve immensely, and the pair nullified Europe's most in-form striker in Madrid. Only 1 of Costa's 6 shots was on target, while Cahill did well to get his big face in the way of the striker's late header. But Wednesday will be a far bigger test for Cahill if he has to repeat his heroics alongside a different defensive partner.
As well as all his goals this season (35 in 48 games), Costa has proved very good at unsettling the opposition, and you can guarantee he won't go quietly at Stamford Bridge, even if the Spain international is forced to scrap his way into the game. And as for cosying up to his possible new team-mates next season, forget it: it's more Costa's style to pick a fight with the big kid, as he did on Tuesday when he squared up to Terry. As Costa once said: "I don’t like losing, so I give my life in every game."
Both advocates of counter-attacking football built on strong defensive foundations and lung-busting effort, it's no wonder Simeone and Mourinho are often compared. Whatever happens, the Argentine has already seen his stock rise this season (even if he was overlooked for FIFA's coach of the year award), but a La Liga/Champions League double will put him on the radar of every top club – including Manchester United – while leaving Mourinho with a bruised ego as he contemplates a second straight season without a trophy.
"It was the game of our lives and now the game of our lives will be played at Stamford Bridge," said Mourinho post-match. "We didn't play for 0-0 but the game goes in a certain direction where you feel that you have to be safe, don't concede, and try to score in the few chances you have."
Simeone was more appreciative of Jose's tactics than the Spanish press, saying: "Both teams tried to play in the way they thought best. They defended well. We tried wide, we tried inside, but couldn't get through."
It'll be like 90 minutes in the dentist's chair for the Stamford Bridge faithful, but with their entire season seemingly at stake, the Blues' Champions League know-how will see them squeeze through. 1-0.