Atletico Madrid will be looking to avoid an upset as they host Champions League surprise Leicester City at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday.
Atletico Madrid have reached the Quarter-Finals of the UEFA Champions League again. Diego Simeone would love to break the final curse, which has seen them lose two consecutive Champions League finals, both to Real Madrid. But, first, they must overcome surprise package, Leicester City.
The Foxes shocked the world by winning the Premier League last season and have backed it by going on an equally laudable run in the Champions League this campaign. Not many gave them a chance, but they have produced solid displays to reach the Quarters.
Now, they face one of the most formidable European sides. Claudio Ranieri helped them dream and it seems they have continued to do that under Craig Shakespeare. It will be a challenging task to match up to Diego Simeone’s men. But, the Foxes are unlikely to succumb without a fight; if they do succumb that is.
We at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Diego Simeone is unlikely to rotate the side much, with a host of injury issues to deal with and is likely to start an almost identical side to the one which drew 1-1 with Real Madrid over the weekend. Filipe Luis and Gabi missed the last Champions League match due to suspension but are now available for selection and will likely be in the lineup.
Simeone, though, will be without the likes of Tiago, Augusto Fernandez, Miguel Angel Moya and Sime Vrsaljko while El Chulo is unlikely to risk fielding either of Kevin Gameiro and Nico Gaitan, who are doubts and are likely to lacking match fitness.
The tie is perhaps the more important of the two legs for Los Rojiblancos as they are at home to the Foxes, who will be looking to keep it as close as they can and earn one or two away goals before going back to the reverse leg. Jose Gimenez is one yellow card away from suspension and is unlikely to be risked.
Antoine Griezmann will be spearheading the attack and the onus will be on the Frenchman to create daylight between the two sides before heading to England for the second leg.
Probable Lineup ( 4-4-2 ): Oblak; Juanfran, Godin, Savic, Luis; Carrasco, Saul, Gabi, Koke; Griezmann, Torres
Craig Shakespeare does not have as many injury issues to deal with as his counterpart. But, he seems to have the biggest one of them all. Wes Morgan, who has a back injury, has failed to recover in time and is set to miss the tie, which means Yohan Benalouane is set to make his Champions League debut for the Foxes.
Wilfred Ndidi has emerged as the one who could finally fill the void left by N’Golo Kante and he is set to partner Danny Drinkwater in the middle of the park in an attempt to dominate the opposition, who have a star studded midfield.
However, it is upfront where Shakespeare is likely to have to make a tough choice. Jamie Vardy is a given starter but Shakespeare must choose whether to start Islam Slimani, who has been perhaps the most consistent performer for the Foxes this season, or Shinji Okazaki, whose work rate may be needed on the night.
The Foxes have based their Champions League run on a solid defence and Shakespeare is likely to focus on the same, especially, on keeping the score to a minimum before the second leg.
Probable Lineup ( 4-4-2 ): Schmeichel; Simpson, Benalouane, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy
1. Leicester City are the lowest possession-commanding team left in the competition ( 41.3% ) – a statistic in which they stand 28th among 32 teams.
2. In fact, it is going to the battle of two teams with the lowest average possession left in the competition at this stage – with Atletico Madrid boasting an average possession of 49.6%.
3. Antoine Griezmann has recorded 4 goals and 2 assists in 8 Champions League games so far this season but is far behind the likes of Lionel Messi (11), Edinson Cavani (8), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski (7).
4. The matchup is also between the two most aerially strong sides left in the competition so far – with Leicester 20.1 aerials compared to Atletico Madrid’s 18.4.
5. Both of the teams have been incredibly shrewd in defence – with 5 clean sheets each to their name.
Player to Watch
The Dane is what stands in the way of Atletico Madrid and Leicester City’s dreams of making it into the semi-final. While the attacking and defensive duties are to be undertaken by the outfield players, Los Rojiblancos have enough quality to slide past the defence and aim at the goal.
Schmeichel has been key in Leicester’s rise and he is likely to be called upon to produce miraculous saves again, if Leicester are to have a chance of upsetting Diego Simeone and his men.
Atletico Madrid 1 – 0 Leicester City
Leicester City and Atletico Madrid are both likely to put out a sturdy defensive performance but Los Rojiblancos’ quality is likely to mean that the club is likely to come out on top, albeit with a narrow margin.
Diego Simeone’s men are likely to emerge victorious by a single goal. But, if the defences loosen up or the opposition manages to slice them open, we may well have a high-scoring match on our cards. But, Atletico Madrid are likely to take a 1-goal advantage to the second leg.