Friday morning’s UEFA Europa League draw had some difficult teams in the pot that Atlético Madrid could have drawn, like RB Leipzig, Lazio or Arsenal. However, Atlético got a bit lucky with the draw, and though they are no pushovers, it could have been much worse. After a long journey to Russia in the round of 16, Atlético now have the short trip to Lisbon, a much easier away leg for the boys.
Atlético last faced Sporting Clube de Portugal eight seasons ago in the very first edition of the Europa League (when it first changed from the UEFA Cup). Quique Sánchez Flores’ Atleti won the R16 tie on away goals in a very exciting 2-2 second leg en route to the final. Since that time, both sides have improved and have competed in Champions League play fairly regularly since that time. Just Rui Patrício, the Sporting goalkeeper, survives from either side since that match.
In the last round, Sporting huffed and puffed their way beyond Viktoria Plzen and needed extra time to do it. This should be a source of confidence for Atlético fans, despite Sporting having some very decent players in their squad. The obvious danger men are Bas Dost and Gelson Martins, with Bruno Fernandes leading the Portuguese in goals this year.
Atlético remain in a very good position to reach Lyon with a favorable quarterfinal draw, and with some of the more worrisome opponents drawing each other — Marseille vs. Leipzig in particular. It will by no means be an easy run to the final, but Atleti remain the strongest team in the competition and should be confident in lifting the trophy at the end of the season.