This should be fun.
Atlético Madrid will look to take the first step toward long-awaited Champions League redemption when they kick off group stage action in Monaco next month. In addition to two punishing losses in the final, Atlético have been knocked out in this competition’s semifinal and quarterfinal rounds in the past four years — and Diego Simeone’s men couldn’t even escape the group stage last season.
This season though, Atlético effectively are hosting the final — and there is belief that they have built a team able to reach the June 1 showpiece at the Wanda Metropolitano. They’ll get a chance to flash their credentials early on the path to Madrid with intriguing fixtures against the aforementioned AS Monaco, Belgian champions Club Brugge and Borussia Dortmund.
Right, some notes from the draw:
- Diego Forlán is and always will be a badass.
- I’m excited about the Dortmund games. Playing in front of the Yellow Wall will be a unique experience for Simeone’s troops — who have played at big grounds before, of course, but never this one. In fact, Atleti and BVB haven’t faced one another since the 1996/97 group stage — the Germans went on to win the European Cup that year.
- Matter of fact, this trio is much more exciting than last year’s. I wanted to avoid Chelsea’s pragmatism and another trip to a former Soviet republic ended in disaster. This time: no Eastern Europe trek and no teams that, on paper, will dare Atleti to break them down.
(That last bit could work in the mattress makers’ favor, as last week’s result versus Rayo Vallecano shows Simeone still has much to do with his reconfigured squad.)
- Atlético have never faced Monaco in an official competition, but they have won two UEFA Super Cups at Stade Louis II. Most importantly: captain Radamel Falcao will return home, and he seems happy about that. (Thomas Lemar also will make a return to the club that just sold him.)
Muy contento y honrado por volver a un lugar que siempre ha sido como mi casa @Atleti— Radamel Falcao (@FALCAO) August 30, 2018
- Club Brugge eliminated Atleti from the 1977/78 European Cup and the 1991/92 Cup Winners’ Cup. They scored a bunch of goals last season (68 in league play, 17 more in the First Division A playoffs) and they’re on pace for about the same this year. They lost top scorer Abdoulay Diaby to Sporting Clube de Portugal this summer, but kept assists king Ruud Vormer around.
- And here’s why Atlético may have more success in Group A this year than Group C last year: they go up against three sides that will take initiative in attack. Atleti can sit back against each of Dortmund, Monaco and Brugge and wait for their chances on the counter.
This should be welcome news to Simeone, who saw his counterattack tear apart Real Madrid in the Super Cup a couple weeks ago. It may also be easier to game-plan for possession-heavy sides that thrive in space than it is for, say, ultra-defensive Qarabag or Antonio Conte’s industrious Chelsea.
- Here’s the schedule:
Sept. 18: Monaco-Atlético
Oct. 3: Atlético-Brugge
Oct. 24: Dortmund-Atlético
Nov. 6: Atlético-Dortmund
Nov. 28: Atlético-Monaco
Dec. 11: Brugge-Atlético