Vicente Calderon, Madrid
April 22, 2014; 19:45 BST
Atletico Madrid host Chelsea FC in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie at Vicente Calderon tonight, in what is expected to be a fiercely competed game. The last meeting between these two sides was in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup and it was an one sided 1-4 win for the Spanish side with Falcao putting Chelsea to the sword. But Falcao is no longer the focal point of this Atletico Madrid side, Diego Costa is, and the striker will be eager to prove himself against a club he has been linked with a move in the summer. Meanwhile a certain Fernando Torres will also return to face his former club, a place where he made his name before his move to England. The Chelsea striker has also been linked with a move back to Atletico in the summer, and what better stage to show his worth than in the semi-final of the Champions League.
Diego Simeone has received a lot of praise for his work with Atletico Madrid and how he has finally been able to break the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona in the La Liga, and he deserves every bit of that praise. Building a team with a meagre budget compared to the two Spanish giants, Simeone’s men are currently leading the La Liga table with a four point advantage over Barcelona. They have also showed their class in Europe and have knocked out the Catalan club in last round. They will now consider their chances of progressing into the final against a Chelsea side, who have struggled a bit recently.
Chelsea will have to produce something special to get a positive result at Vicente Calderon, a ground where Atletico Madrid have lost just once this season, in all competitions. The London club are coming into this game on the back of a 1-2 defeat against relegation contenders Sunderland in the league, which ended Jose Mourinho’s wonderful record at home in the league, and that loss has provided Liverpool with a big lead at the top. The Champions League now seems to be the best possible opportunity for the London club to salvage their season. But they will have to be at their best to go past a team of Atletico Madrid’s calibre.
The London club have faced an awful away form off late and have won only three of their last eight matches on the road in all competitions. But can Jose Mourinho show his experience in Europe once again and do the improbable? Or will Simeone’s men prove to be too big a hurdle to pass for them?
Atletico Madrid are favourites to win the first leg at home and betfair are offering odds of 1.88 for a win for the Spanish side. Chelsea have struggled to score goals away from home off late having managed just two goals in their last four away matches, Atletico on the other hand have managed to score more than one goal at home (in all competitions) just once in their last five matches, so it might be safe to bet on under 1.5 goals in this first leg with odds of 2.92 being offered for it.
Team news and tactics
Diego Simeone nearly has a fully fit squad to choose from ahead of this Champions League tie. Young defender Javier Manquillo, whose last appearance for Atletico was in the Copa del Rey match against Real Madrid, has recovered from his neck injury and is available for selection. Arda Turan was the biggest concern for Simeone ahead of this game. The 27-year-old has missed the last four matches for the Spanish side and his last appearance was in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie against Barcelona. He has turned to training with the first team, but remains doubtful for this tie. There were also some concerns about Diego Costa’s fitness ahead of their game against Elche on Friday, but the striker played the full ninety minutes of the match to supress all doubts.
With his team being involved in a close title race in the La Liga, Simeone didn’t have the luxury of rotating his players in their match against Elche. He is likely to make just one change to the starting line-up he used on Friday. Raul Garcia is likely to replace Adrian on the right wing, which means David Villa and Diego Costa will start upfront.
Atletico Madrid will once again take a physical approach in this match and will look to unsettle Chelsea when they have the possession. Tiago and Gabi have tremendous work rate and they will put pressure on the Chelsea midfield. In attack, they use a very direct approach and are not shy of using the long ball in behind the defence for Villa or Costa to chase. The pace and ability of Koke and Garcia on the counter-attack is also crucial for them, and the duo will certainly test the Chelsea full backs.
Expected starting line-up (4-4-2): Courtois (GK); Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Luis; Garcia, Gabi, Tiago, Koke; Costa, Villa
Unlike Diego Simeone, Jose Mourinho faces the prospect of missing out on his most important player in attack. Eden Hazard is yet to make an appearance for the Blues since the 2-0 win over PSG in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie. He picked up a calf injury in that game and is unlikely to take any part in the first leg of this tie, although the Belgium international did travel with the squad. The London club also missed out on Petr Cech in their last league match against Sunderland, due to illness, but he is expected to recover in time for this game.
Samuel Eto’o, who scored Chelsea’s opening goal against Sunderland, has picked up a minor knee irritation and has been left out of the squad that has travelled to Madrid. Branislav Ivanovic is the other absentee for Jose Mourinho in this match after collecting his third yellow card of the tournament in the second leg of their tie against PSG and will now serve his suspension. January signings Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah are ineligible to participate in this year’s competition for Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho is likely to make six changes to the starting eleven he used in the 1-2 defeat against Sunderland. Ashley Cole is likely to make a rare start in place of the suspended Ivanovic, which means Cesar Azpilicueta will move back to the right back role. Frank Lampard and David Luiz will start in the pivot with Ramires dropping down to the bench and Matic being ineligible.
Andre Schurrle will replace Mohamed Salah in attack with Willian moving to the right wing and Oscar playing behind the striker. The injured Samuel Eto’o will make way for Fernando Torres, who will be eager to prove himself against his former club.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech (GK); Azpilicueta, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Lampard, Luiz; Willian, Oscar, Schurrle; Torres
Players to watch-out for: Diego Costa (Chelsea); Andre Schurrle (Chelsea)
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Chelsea