Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea | Tuesday 22 April | Vicente Calderon Stadium | 20:45
The little semi-final that could. Atletico, the perennial bridesmaids of the Madrid region, have become a formidable unit under the tutelage of the similarly taciturn and imposing figure of Diego Simeone. Their rise through La Liga has confounded critics, leaving the Messi/Ronaldo aficionados grasping at plausible explanations. Chelsea, on the other hand, have become a reinvigorated European presence under the experienced guidance of Jose Mourinho. Their relinquishment of genuine title ambitions this weekend against Sunderland will no doubt give the Portuguese tactician an added incentive to reach yet another European showpiece. This should be a brutal battle of attrition that will unlikely be solved on the first go-round.
To Win (90mins)
Atletico Madrid 8/10
Diego Simeone’s side have won the first major battle off the field, as FIFA have deemed Thibaut Courtois eligible to play for Los Blancos. The Belgian shot-stopper’s inclusion has added significance given the potential injury concerns surrounding Chelsea’s Petr Cech. Diego Costa should make a welcome return as David Villa will likely give way up front, allowing Raul Garcia to play in tandem with the influential Costa. The most important aspect of Madrid’s success is their unrelenting tenacity in every aspect of their play.
Watching them against Barcelona, one was reminded of the Arsenal sides that pre-dated the Wenger era, sides built on stout efficiency and tireless work rate. When you throw in a world quality striker like Diego Costa, you develop a potent recipe that is hard to dismantle over two legs. However, Chelsea may be a slightly different proposition from the more flamboyant challenges that they face in La Liga. Both Real and Barcelona are expected to try and assert their superiority over Atletico, but Mourinho’s side are renowned European spoilers in their own right, which should make for an intriguing cat and mouse game.
Chelsea’s comeback against PSG underlined their status as European heavyweights, their calculating street smarts allowing them to compete without ever dominating games. The suspension of Ivanovic will probably necessitate a switch in flank for Azpilicueta, while Ashley Cole will almost certainly deputise at left-back (quite a handy deputy if you ask me). Petr Cech has a slight injury cloud hanging over him, one which I feel he will manage to overcome in the wake of a shaky performance by veteran understudy Mark Schwarzer on the weekend.
Ramires and Luiz will offer the legs in midfield and will be tasked with breaking down the intricate passing medleys that have come to characterise the forward movements of Madrid. Hazard is the biggest injury concern and it seems unlikely that the Belgian will run on in the first leg. Surely Mourinho will not risk the failed ‘false nine’ strategy that he deployed in Paris? Willian, Oscar and Schurrle will likely play behind Samuel Eto’o in an attacking triangle that will need to do just as much defensive work as offensive. Mourinho will not fall into the trap of going for the jugular in this game and should provide a complex puzzle for this excellent Atletico side to solve.
VERDICT: Atletico Madrid 8/10
This game should be one of miniscule margins. The last time these sides met in European competition, Chelsea were hammered 4-1 in the Super Cup final, as Radamel Falcao dominated a Chelsea side in a state of awkward transition. Chelsea will have learnt for that experience, and have strengthened under the guidance of Mourinho. However, this Atletico team should just edge this one, as their formidable home form and La Liga supremacy comes to the fore. I feel the Blues could grab an important away goal, Both Team to Score also offers value at 12/10. Everything to play for at the Bridge next week.
The man knows his football, but even he gets it wrong from time to time. Feel free to share your view below.