The first leg of Atletico Madrid’s Champions League last-16 tie against Chelsea will see the LaLiga Santander leaders face the fifth-placed team in the Premier League, but the form book tells a different story.
Los Rojiblancos come into Tuesday night’s fixture off the back of a home defeat to Levante, who they could only draw with a few days before in Valencia in a postponed meeting between the two, while they have conceded at least one goal in their last seven games for the first time in the Diego Simeone era.
Chelsea, meanwhile, seem to have turned things around since Thomas Tuchel took charge on January 26, as he has since overseen eight games, of which the Blues have won six and drawn two, scoring nine goals and conceding just two.
This first leg between Atletico and Chelsea will not take place in Madrid, however. This is due to current restrictions in place from the Spanish government regarding flights arriving from the United Kingdom, so the match will be held in Bucharest.
Curiously, though, it was in the Arena Nationala that Simeone’s legend first began to be written, as Atletico beat Athletic Club 3-0 in the 2012 Europa League final in the Romanian capital just six months after being the Argentine had been appointed as head coach.
Simeone has since led Los Colchoneros to another Europa League trophy in 2017/18, as well as the LaLiga Santander title in 2013/14, two European Super Cups in 2012 and 2018, and two finishes as runners-up in the Champions League in 2013/14 and 2015/16. Simeone has his Atleti side top of LaLiga Santander, and he will be hoping that he can add to his legend by going one step further in the Champions League this season, too.
Atletico are without some key players for Tuesday night’s clash, as Kieran Trippier remains unavailable due to suspension and Yannick Carrasco and Jose Maria Gimenez are out injured. There are a further two players missing, with Hector Herrera having tested positive for COVID-19 and Sime Vrsaljko carrying a knock.
As such, Marcos Llorente and Saul Niguez are expected to fill in at right and left wing-back respectively. And by the two midfielders moving into these roles, it will allow Geoffrey Kondogbia and Thomas Lemar to occupy two of the three central midfield positions.
What’s clear is that if Atletico are to advance to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, keeping a clean sheet on Tuesday night will give them a much better chance of progressing in the second leg, especially as they should, in theory, have more players back for this fixture.