Atlético Madrid have been nowhere near its best in this season’s Champions League, and Diego Simeone’s men will need to put in a first-class shift in order to progress past Chelsea on Wednesday.
In what can only be viewed as disadvantageous and even unfair toward Atlético, UEFA has decreed that this round of 16 second leg will go ahead at Stamford Bridge, as originally planned. This runs counter to the governing body’s previous allowances in other ties involving English clubs — Liverpool and Manchester City have played out (or will play out) its last 16 ties on neutral ground, in Budapest.
UEFA’s inaction in this case also perplexes from the standpoint that London is a coronavirus hotspot. Atlético are not expected to take training at Stamford Bridge due to the potential health risk.
“We are facing a team that is doing very well,” Diego Simeone said Tuesday. “They have not lost since their coach’s arrival. They are playing very well.
“Tomorrow, (all that matters) is to win, and that’s the result we’ll seek.”
Atlético (1-0 down from the first leg) escaped a challenging group on the final matchday and entered last month’s “home” leg banged up. Simeone did not have his first-choice defense — he will on Wednesday — and was still reintegrating players who missed time due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the squad. The bad timing may yet prove lethal for Atleti, but Cholo’s defensive tactics in Romania have given his now-fit team — nursing a four-point lead in LaLiga — a chance in west London.
Olivier Giroud’s Bucharest bicycle kick could prove priceless for Thomas Tuchel’s team, which still has not lost since Jan. 19. Chelsea have not conceded a single goal since before the first leg against Atlético, so Tuchel’s focus has turned to finding the best way to meld his talented, expensive attackers into a cohesive, consistent attack. The Blues have scored only three times over their past four league games, and Leeds United held them to a goalless draw on Saturday.
Atlético must score once and keep a clean sheet to force extra time, while a 2-1 result (or better) would complete a rojiblanco remontada and clinch a quarterfinal berth for the second consecutive season. Under Simeone, Atleti have won all four previous European knockout ties against English opposition.
Simeone has worked with a 4-4-2 in training so far this week, with starting nods possible for both Saúl and Renan Lodi. Cholo confirmed Tuesday that João Félix and Luis Suárez will be the starting forward pair — Suárez has not scored in an “official” Champions League away game since 2015.
“Tomorrow would be a nice day to break that streak,” Simeone said.
Félix, too, will have many a watchful eye on him. The 21-year-old is yet to deliver a signature performance at this level, and a scenario where Atlético are likely to be aggressive and on the ball should suit him.
“Without will, the talent matters little,” Félix said Tuesday. “Many talented players didn’t reach the top because they didn’t have the will, and I do not want that to happen to me.”
The squad Everyone is available.
Date March 17, 2021
Location Stamford Bridge, Fulham, London
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST
SB Nation opposition blog We Ain’t Got No History
Available TV/streaming Movistar Liga de Campeones (Spain), BT Sport 2 (United Kingdom), Paramount+ (United States), ESPN Play Sur (Argentina), Eleven Sports 1 (Portugal), ESPN2 Sur (Uruguay), CCTV-5 (China)