There was a collective sigh of disappointment among Chelsea supporters back in December when the Blues were drawn against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16.
Over the past decade, Diego Simeone’s side have established themselves as one of the most difficult and streetwise opponents to face in European competition – they’ve twice reached the final of the Champions League and also claimed the Europa League on two occasions.
This season, Atleti sit top of La Liga after 23 matches. They are three points ahead of Real Madrid and have a game in hand over their local rivals. And yet there are reasons for optimism for Chelsea ahead of tonight’s first leg in Budapest.
Atletico have won just one of their last four games. They’ve also failed to keep a clean sheet in their last previous seven La Liga matches, the first time that has happened under Simeone.
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The once impregnable Atleti defence is no more. But as Tom Allnutt, the Madrid-based sports correspondent for AFP – tells football.london, that is somewhat by design.
“From an English perspective, I think everybody expects this Atletico to be extremely well-organised, very well drilled and defensively impenetrable,” he says. “And I think that is on the basis of the Liverpool tie in the Champions League last season.
“There’s no doubt they’ve still got that within them, but this season it hasn’t been quite like that: they’ve sacrificed a little bit of defensive steel to score more goals.
“Saying that, the goals they have conceded are the type of goals you wouldn’t expect from Atletico; set-pieces, mistakes, lapses of concentration, even routine balls over the top haven’t been dealt with properly.
“So I think Chelsea will look at this Atletico and think they can score against them, which in previous years would’ve been the biggest challenge.