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Know Thine Enemy: Copenhagen - Atlético Q&A with Claus Røndbjerg

We talked to a Danish football expert to get the skinny on Atlético’s Europa League opponents.

FC Copenhagen vs Randers FC - Danish Alka Superliga Photo by Jan Christensen / FrontzoneSport via Getty Images

ItC: Copenhagen are the two-time defending Danish champions, but it looks like things have gone downhill for them this season as they’re 18 points behind Midtjylland. What’s been different and how big a departure is it from historical success?

CR: Copenhagen are the winningest team of the noughties and the 2010’s. No doubt about that. Considering their history really starts before the Danish miracle in Sweden (EURO ‘92) it’s amazing that a club with this kind of short history have become the giants of Danish football.

This year has been different. With the new league structure (top half vs. bottom half — top half plays for the championship while the bottom plays against relegation), it’s crucial not to dwell too much on how far behind the champions are. But! It’s very concerning that the point gap is this big, especially towards their greatest rivals Brøndby and new rivals FC Midtjylland. No doubt that Copenhagen can’t finish in the top two this year, but I believe the third spot is still possible for them.

The biggest difference has been that they have sold all their star players bar two. Erik Johansson (defender — now injured) and Federico Santander are still here, while Mathias Zanka Jørgensen (Huddersfield), Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen), Nicolai Jørgensen (Feyenoord), Benjamin Verbic (Dynamo Kyiv) and Andreas Cornelius (Atalanta) all have been shipped out, with no real replacements who have made the grade. Their form has changed a bit with former Ajax winger Viktor Fischer coming in and Santander coming back from injury, but still a lot of key players are missing. No doubt that their biggest regret has been losing Delaney and Zanka. Those two were crucial for the Copenhageners.

ItC: Who are the players on this team Atlético Madrid need to watch closely?

CR: Fischer, Santander and Rasmus Falk are the key players. Falk is the only one who is not an international for his respective country. But Fischer stands out as he wants to redeem himself in the eyes of Aage Hareide (Danish national coach) due to the fact he wants to be in Russia this summer. He’s on the outskirts of the Danish national team with others breathing down his neck to take his spot. He made his home debut last Saturday and did so in style with a goal and an assist in the 5-1 thrashing of minnows Randers FC.

ItC: How fierce is Copenhagen’s home support?

CR: Their fans are very expecting. Considering they’ve been a top flight side since the late 1990’s it is very likely that their fan base has grown to one, if not the largest, in Denmark with only Brøndby and AGF Aarhus coming a bit close. At home, they give all they can to get behind the team and have been great with the tifos lately as you can find on YouTube. This year has been different. With no real chance of getting into the top two and their biggest rivals claiming the top spots, they can get a little vitriolic with the team and what kind of players don’t belong in the squad. But all in all, a great bunch who will get behind the team.

ItC: Atlético are heavily favored in this tie and are the overall favorites to win Europa League. How can Copenhagen turn the tables and pull off the upset?

CR: Eyes are definitely on Atlético. Danish teams doesn’t have the best track record against Spanish teams. Copenhagen did play Barcelona in the 2010/11 Champions League and the Danes “only” lost 2-0 in Barcelona, but that was eight years ago.

Even with the most red-tinted glasses, it will be all Atlético and if they don’t play at their best then the Danes might have a chance. But a 1-0 loss will almost be a win for the Danes especially with the Copenhageners’ form in mind.

Hopefully Antoine Griezmann will miss the plane or the flight attendant will trip him going on the plane. That seems to be the best way of keeping him quiet.

ItC: Haha! If anything happens to him, you’re getting the blame.

What’s your scoreline prediction for the first leg and the game in general?

CR: I can’t for the life of me see Copenhagen winning this one. I believe that they can keep a professional result at home (perhaps a 1-0 or 2-0 loss) but fear that they will have big problems at the Wanda Metropolitano. Getting a goal seems to be difficult, but I will guess that one can come from Fischer.