The Champions League has given us some great Round of 16 ties over the years and Wednesday night surely looks like one more to add to that collection, as Atletico Madrid come to Stamford Bridge to overturn their 0-1 deficit, they suffered 3 weeks ago at the hands of the Blues.
Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid: Match Preview
Atletico Madrid have really suffered in the past couple of weeks in La Liga, as their lead, at the time of writing, has shortened to only 4 points and not a lot of people would place money on Diego Simeone & Co to win the league anymore. However, the Champions League is an anomaly for them as they always seem to go deep into the Champions League and Diego Simeone deserves a lot of credit for it. Yet, somehow, Atletico fell short of their task 3 weeks ago when most people believed that they would go past Chelsea comfortably.
On the contrary, a fearless Chelsea showed up and to Chelsea’s surprise, a very lacklustre and timid Atletico Madrid turned up and Chelsea took full advantage, as they attacked and attacked until Olivier Giroud scored a wonder goal to seal an away win for the Blues. But this is not the first time Atletico Madrid have judged and set up for an important Champions League game so poorly. In 2019, Atletico went into the 2nd leg of their Round of 16 tie against with an advantage of 2 goals and due to their excessively defensive game plan, they lost that game 3-0 and were knocked out.
Two similar occasions and on both occasions, two attackers suffered. While Antoine Griezmann was the victim of this set up in 2019, Joao Felix was the latest player who suffered the entire game due to poor tactics and lack of an attacking impetus.
Thomas Tuchel and Co. used this to their advantage and probed into the Atleti defence until they got something they could take with themselves to Stamford Bridge and thanks to Olivier Giroud, they did. While Simeone failed his ordeal, Tuchel got it spot on. Ardent fans of football would have debated the absence of N’Golo Kante in the starting lineup in the first leg, but Tuchel knew that Chelsea would have a major share of possession due to which Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic were deployed in a midfield pivot to keep the ball ticking and keep providing the attackers and the wingbacks with a lot of of the ball. This system worked and Chelsea are well set up now for the 2nd leg.
HOW WILL CHELSEA SET UP?
Playing Jorginho in the first leg came at a price as the midfielder was booked and is now suspended for the 2nd leg at Stamford Bridge. However, this is a happy problem for Chelsea as they have N’Golo Kante to cover in that role and the Frenchman will relish this opportunity as there is nothing more Kante likes than breaking up play, something he will have to do on Wednesday night and will have to do a lot of it, as Simeone will have to put out an attacking game plan to overturn the 1st leg loss.
However, Chelsea’s biggest loss will be their best player of the season in Mason Mount as the Englishman was also booked very early into the first leg. The 22-year-old has been instrumental to Chelsea this season and he will be a huge loss, not only in the attacking front, but also defensively, as Mount is the best presser in this Chelsea side. The Englishman’s creativity, intensity and tenacity will be hugely missed but it will be intriguing to see who Tuchel replaces him with as the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic will be vying for that spot.
However, Tuchel is most likely to use Callum-Hudson-Odoi as one winger while he would deploy Ziyech on the other wing and play Timo Werner through the center and ask him to make free runs behind the Atletico defence, something he did brilliantly against Liverpool 10 days ago. While Hudson-Odoi’s creativity will be a key factor, playing him on the wings allows Tuchel to employ Reece James in the right-wing back role which brings increased defensive cover to an already excellent backline.
Tuchel will expect his team to attack on the counter and breakthrough Atletico’s backline and put Chelsea through to the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time in 8 years.
DIEGO SIMEONE WILL HAVE TO GIVE UP HIS DEFENSIVE TACTICS:
If Atletico Madrid have any chances of winning the game on Wednesday, they need to be asking the Chelsea backline questions continuously and attack their vulnerabilities with all their might. Joao Felix is a wonderful talent and he needs to be maximized to his potential and the only way of doing this is by allowing the youngster to run at Chelsea’s defence over and over again.
While Chelsea’s backline has been nothing short of excellence, Leeds United on Saturday showed the different ways of creating chances against the Blues. If Marcos Alonso is deployed in a wingback role on Wednesday, Atletico could surely outnumber that wing and create 2v1 situations with Alonso and given the Spaniard’s lack of pace, it is an area to exploit. In addition to this, Joao Felix’s speed and trickery could prove to be a nuisance of Azpilicueta and Simeone will certainly be aware of this.
Kieran Trippier’s return is a major boost for Simeone as this not only shores Atletico’s defence but also allows Marcos Llorente to be played further up the pitch where he is most effective. Llorente has contributed to 16 goals and assists this season and he would surely be a threat from midfield to the Blues. It is very possible that the likes of Saul and Koke play in central midfield to control the ball and retain possession. Luis Suarez will have to show some of his mid-season form as the striker as looked far off his true self in the past 2-3 weeks.
Diego Simeone is a master of the knockout ties and he will be counting on his team to pull off yet another coup at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
Edouard Mendy- Cesar Azpilicueta; Andreas Christensen; Antonio Rudiger- Reece James; Ben Chilwell; N’Golo Kanté; Mateo Kovacic- Callum Hudson-Odoi; Hakim Ziyech; Timo Werner.
Jan Oblak- Kieran Trippier; Stefan Savic; Jose Maria Gimenez; Mario Hermoso- Koke; Saul; Marcos Llorente; Yannick Ferreira Carrasco- Joao Felix; Luis Suarez.