The UEFA Champions League quarterfinal draw will take place on Friday (bright and early in the United States), and Atlético Madrid will be a part of this draw for the fourth consecutive season. Atlético qualified with a stalemate at home against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday, thanks to Jan Oblak (have you seen this? HAVE YOU?!?)
The seeding restrictions are lifted; anyone can play anyone. The two legs are just one week apart rather than three and to progress from this stage is to feel as if your side is invincible and can lift the European Cup. Let’s take a look at each of Atleti’s potential opponents this time and how happy/afraid you should be to draw them.
How they got here: Via a miracle. Paris-Saint Germain blasted the blaugrana to the tune of 4-0 in Paris last month, but Barcelona turned the tables in a 6-1 decision at Camp Nou to complete the biggest comeback in Champions League history.
Players to watch: Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez, Gerard Piqué. Messi is the UCL’s top scorer, Neymar was the reason Barcelona completed its comeback and Suárez cheated his way into winning the second penalty in that game. Piqué is one of the best defenders in the world.
European competition history against Atlético: Oh, yes. Atlético and Barcelona met at the quarterfinal stage in 2014 and 2016. Atleti advanced on aggregate - 2-1 in 2014, 3-2 last year - on both occasions.
Fear Factor: 8/10. Yeah, Atlético have knocked out Barça twice in the last three years, and this Barcelona side has lingering problems with balance in spite of that famous rally. But I don’t want to play them, and neither should you. In four meetings with Barça this season, Atleti have shown a proclivity to miss big chances and fall victim to Messi’s magic at the other end (has scored or assisted half the goals the Catalans have scored vs. Atlético this season). I’ll pass.
How they got here: Quite easily. Bayern were drawn with their favorite punching bags, Arsenal, and only went and put up 10 goals across two legs.
Players to watch: Thiago, Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer. A fully-fit Thiago is a midfield maestro, Lewandowski is a world-class #9, Neuer is one of the best keepers on the planet. And Carlo Ancelotti has many more horses in the stable.
European competition history against Atlético: Bayern beat Atlético in the 1974 European Cup final (which went to replay after Bayern equalized at the death) before Atleti eliminated the Bavarians in the semifinals last season. This season, the two finished first and second in Group D.
Fear Factor: 7/10. Two visits to the Calderón since last April compounded Bayern’s well-documented problems in Spain, as Atlético earned two 1-0 wins (the second, recorded in September, remains one of the team’s finest performances of the season). Bayern are just about unstoppable at Allianz Arena, though, and when fit this side has a case as Europe’s best. Plus, Ancelotti becomes a wizard in the knockout stages. Drawing Bayern here could ease Atleti’s potential path to Cardiff, but it’d be very difficult to beat them.
How they got here: Thomas Tuchel’s entertaining Dortmund side lost 1-0 in Lisbon but issued a 4-0 hiding in the return leg to oust Benfica.
Players to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembélé, Julian Weigl. Aubameyang is a lethal forward with a dream combination of speed and finishing, Dembélé is probably the brightest young winger in Europe and Weigl is set to assume the mantle of Germany’s midfield general sooner than later.
European competition history against Atlético: Atlético were the only team to beat Dortmund in the 1996-97 Champions League season; BVB went on to win the competition after finishing as runners-up in Atleti’s group that year. (Here are some highlights.) Three decades prior, Dortmund bested Atleti in the 1966 Cup Winners’ Cup quarterfinals.
Fear Factor: 6/10. Dortmund are fun to watch and are loaded with young attacking talent. However, the flies in the ointment are a suspect defense (Legia Warsaw hit them for four in the group stage, for example) and a lack of experience; only five players remain from the team that made the 2013 Champions League final. Atlético’s extraordinary defensive record at home in this competition would go a long way toward resolving this tie.
How they got here: Juventus had very few problems eliminating Porto in the Round of 16. The Italians won 3-0 on aggregate and finished a man up in each leg.
Players to watch: Leonardo Bonucci, Gianluigi Buffon, Paulo Dybala. Bonucci is a top-drawer center back, Buffon is still a great keeper at 39 years old, Dybala is a superstar-in-waiting. Gonzalo Higuaín’s pretty good, too. And we miss Mario Mandžukić.
European competition history against Atlético: Juve squared off with Atlético twice in the 1960’s: the second round of the 1963-64 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and a 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semifinal. Juve advanced both times. Atlético topped Group A in the 2014-15 Champions League, beating the Italians at home 1-0 and drawing 0-0 away.
Fear Factor: 6.5/10. Max Allegri and Diego Simeone have two deep, very experienced teams built from the back and desperate for Champions League glory. This tie would be nearly even and too close to call; whichever team does better in the other’s stadium likely would advance.
How they got here: Improbably, yet fully deserved, once again. Leicester notched a critical away goal through Jamie Vardy before Wes Morgan and Marc Albrighton finished off Sevilla.
Players to watch: Riyad Mahrez, Wilfried Ndidi, Kasper Schmeichel. Mahrez appears to have his mojo back following Claudio Ranieri’s dismissal, Ndidi is as close to an N’golo Kanté replacement as Leicester are going to get, Schmeichel was stellar against Sevilla.
European competition history against Atlético: Atleti eliminated Leicester in the last 16 of the 1961-62 Cup Winners’ Cup (3-1 on aggregate) and in the first round of the 1997-98 UEFA Cup (4-1 on aggregate).
Fear Factor: 4/10. There is danger here - Leicester are playing with house money at this point and have nothing to lose - but Atlético shouldn’t have much issue ceding the initiative to a Leicester side that is more threatening without the ball. This is probably the best-case scenario.
How they got here: By preying on Manchester City’s defense. After falling behind 5-3 in Manchester, the Ligue 1 table-toppers roared back with a 3-1 win at Stade Louis II to secure progression on away goals.
Players to watch: Radamel Falcao, Kamil Glik, Kylian Mbappé. Falcao is a former Atlético great and is in the midst of a sensational comeback season, the underrated Glik is the attacking side’s best defender, while 18-year-old Mbappé is already drawing Thierry Henry comparisons.
European competition history against Atlético: None, although Atleti won two European Super Cups at Stade Louis II.
Fear Factor: 5/10. Monaco have scored an eye-watering 126 goals in all competitions this season. That’s scary. What’s less scary is a defense which has conceded 17 goals in this season’s Champions League - although that does include two qualifying rounds (an additional four goals from four games). Leonardo Jardim trotted out a youthful side in the second leg against Manchester City that exposed that team’s defensive shortcomings and mental fragility. Atlético would be a much sterner test for a freewheeling side that’s already played 12 UCL games this season.
How they got here: Zinedine Zidane’s charges drew a Napoli team that admirably attempted to simply outscore its opponents. That, predictably, didn’t work. Real Madrid notched 3-1 wins in Spain and in Italy to advance 6-2 on aggregate.
Players to watch: Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo.
European competition history against Atlético: I’d prefer not to talk about it.
Fear Factor: 11/10. Nope.