Juventus have touched down in Spain ahead of their visit to the Wanda Metropolitano for the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie. The Feb. 19 meeting will be the teams’ first since the 2014/15 Champions League group stage, but plenty has changed since then even if the managers haven’t — for one, Cristiano Ronaldo has arrived and once again has the objective of terrifying Atlético Madrid
Atlético are in their worst form of the season and are 13/8 underdogs to advance to the quarterfinals. But Diego Simeone’s men have the talent, coaching and wherewithal to pull out a victory in this tie.
Counterattack with through-balls
Atlético have always been known for their defense and this year is no different. They continue to pace LaLiga with just 17 goals allowed through 24 weeks.
However, Simeone’s approach has changed in recent seasons, as he has signed wingers such as Vitolo and Thomas Lemar as well as strikers Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata.
This approach has met with mixed results, but the goal in mind to mold Atlético into a more dynamic counterattacking team still stands. The through balls from the wingers to any of Morata, Costa and Antoine Griezmann up top are central to the team’s game plan.
Furthermore, Juventus are an extremely tough team defensively — they have allowed just 15 goals in Serie A. Therefore, Atlético will need to maximize chances. Sending as many balls at Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny as possible will increase the likelihood that one or two end up in the back of the net.
Contain Cristiano Ronaldo and the wings
Even after his move away from Real Madrid, the mattress makers cannot escape Cristiano. The world’s best pure striker continues to wreak havoc in Serie A, as he’s scored 19 goals to lead Juventus and the league.
In just 31 appearances against Atlético, Ronaldo has tallied 22 goals and eight assists. However, he has dropped points in more matches than he has won, with a record of 15-8-8.
Juventus are one of the best teams in Europe at attacking down the wings. In a match where goals will be at a premium, Simeone’s back line will have to be on high alert. Mario Mandžukic (eight Serie A goals), Paulo Dybala (three Serie A goals) and Miralem Pjanić (three Serie A assists) are all serious threats.
Defend set pieces
Juventus are also one of the best teams around at converting set pieces, with 11 goals from these situations. That ranks second in the Italian top flight, just behind Roma’s 12. They have a 21 percent success rate from set pieces.
Atlético do not have a particularly hard time defending set pieces — they’ve only allowed four to get past Jan Oblak so far in LaLiga. However, Juventus’ skill in these situations makes it a major factor.
Atleti rank fourth in LaLiga having received 69 yellow cards and will have to minimize the fouls in order to minimize Juventus’ set piece chances.
Juventus has only lost three times this season, but two of those defeats came in the Champions League. The Old Lady is beatable, though Atlético have to play a near-perfect 180 minutes to accomplish this. If they can counterattack effectively, contain the wide threats and defend set pieces, this match will be theirs.