Atlético Madrid are preparing to do battle with Porto in the UEFA Champions League group stage for the second year running.
When the ball rolls at the Cívitas Metropolitano on Wednesday night, it will officially kick off Atlético’s 10th consecutive season in this competition’s group stage — a mark that only six other teams (Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Juventus, and Paris Saint-Germain) have equalled or bettered in all of Europe.
Los Rojiblancos progressed from their Champions League group eight times in the previous nine campaigns — they went on to win the Europa League the one season they did not (2017/18). FiveThirtyEight has given Atlético the best percentage-chance to finish first in Group B this year, which also includes Bayer Leverkusen and Belgian powerhouse Club Brugge. Simeone’s men last won their group in 2016/17.
“The Champions League is different from any other competition,” Cholo told the media on Tuesday. “This is an opportunity for us to do things well. It’s not just another game. We have to do very well from the first game, in front of our people, in a very complicated competition.”
Atlético have met reigning Portuguese champions Porto four times in the Simeone Era and have not tasted defeat against the Dragons since the 2009/10 Champions League group stage. Porto came to Madrid last September and grabbed a goalless draw, but Atleti had the last laugh — the Colchoneros’ 3-1 win in Portugal three months later booked their place in the knockout phase.
Porto sit third in Liga Portugal Bwin this season. Sérgio Conceição’s side has won four and lost one thus far.
“Porto is a team in the image of its coach, who spreads enthusiasm, energy, and hard work,” Simeone said about Conceição, his former teammate at Lazio.
The big news for Atlético centers on goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s availability. Oblak was injured when Reinildo Mandava accidentally slid into him and caught his leg during last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad. The 29-year-old might be ready to play Celta Vigo on Saturday, but backup Ivo Grbić is expected to make his first Champions League appearance for Atleti in the meantime.
“Ivo is ready, we believe in him and he is in the team to play, although Oblak normally does,” Simeone said. “If he has the opportunity on Wednesday, let’s hope he takes advantage of it, because he has the ability.”
Former Porto youth product João Félix is expected to start up top alongside Álvaro Morata, who continues his impressive return to prominence. Nahuel Molina will return to the team after serving a two-game suspension, displacing Marcos Llorente — who is expected to replace Rodrigo de Paul in midfield.
“The team hasn’t changed too many things from last year,” João said Tuesday. “We’re doing things well. We drew one game and lost another in the league, but we’re confident in the work we’re doing. We know that the ideas are good, and we have to believe in our style of football to try to win.”
The squad list for Atleti vs FC Porto pic.twitter.com/LPMeaqDP6N— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) September 7, 2022
Date Sept. 7, 2022
Location Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. BST, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST