Who: Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea FC
What: UEFA Champions League, Semifinals (first leg)
Where: Vicente Calderon Stadium, Arganzuela, Madrid, Spain
When: Tuesday April 22, 2014
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast Madrid, Spain
Time: 7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET/11:45 a.m. PT
Worldwide Livestreams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
TV: Fox Sports 1, Fox Soccer 2Go, Fox Deportes (US); UTV, ITV 1, STV Scotland (UK)
Radio: SiriusXM FC Sirius 94 (Internet 94), BBC Radio 5 Live
Referee: Jonas Eriksson
3-Way Odds: Atletico Madrid -105, Chelsea +310, Draw +240
Total: Over 2 -120, Under 2 Even
Decimal Odds: Atletico Madrid 1.95, Chelsea 3.40, Draw 1.83
Decimal Total: Over 2 1.83, Under 2 2.00
Fractional Odds: Atletico Madrid 20/21, Chelsea 31/10, Draw 12/5
Fractional Total: Over 2 5/6, Under 2 1/1
Alternate Odds: Atletico Madrid Pick -250, Chelsea Pick +200
Atletico Madrid -1 +200, Chelsea +1 -250
Atletico Madrid -1½ +290, Chelsea +1½ -375
Over 1½ -200, Under 1½ +165
Over 2½ +155, Under 2½ -185
Over 3½ +400, Under 3½ -550
Over 4½ +1000, Under 4½ -2500
First Half: Atletico Madrid +175, Chelsea +330, Draw Even
Atletico Madrid Pick -210, Chelsea Pick +160
Over 1 +135, Under 1 -175
Odds To Qualify: Atletico Madrid -110, Chelsea -110
Odds To Win Champions League: Atletico Madrid 7/2, Chelsea 4/1
(Bayern Munich 7/5, Real Madrid 5/2)
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
3-Way Odds: Atletico Madrid -110, Chelsea +350, Draw +230
Total: Over 2 -115, Under 2 -105
Source: LVH SuperBook (Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)
Chelsea and Atletico Madrid have developed a somewhat unique relationship over the past several years, but when the two clubs meet on Tuesday at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal tie, it will be for the most serious stakes yet.
The two teams did play for some silverware last August in the UEFA Super Cup in Stade Louis II in Monaco, and Los Rojiblancos and Radamel Falcao painted the Blues a pale shade of pink as the Colombian striker notched a first-half hat-trick and Atletico rolled to a 4-1 victory and all of the semi-glory that comes with winning the Super Cup.
Chelsea striker Fernando Torres started out his professional career at Atletico (2001-2007), and the Blues were linked with the 28-year-old Falcao last year. The striker has since moved to AS Monaco in France’s Ligue 1, and Chelsea are now rumored to be coveting star striker Diego Costa (27 goals, second in La Liga behind Lionel Messi).
And we all know Chelsea’s goalkeeper of the future—21-year-old Belgian Thibaut Courtois—has been on loan at the Vicente Calderon since 2011 and has made a huge name for himself, helping Los Rojiblancos (27-4-3) to the top of La Liga standings this season in a league traditionally dominated by world soccer powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid.
So these two teams sort of know each other. Sort of like Blues manager Jose Mourinho and Atletico manager Diego Simeone sort of know each other in some strange way. But that Super Cup meeting and all the striker speculation are meaningless here, and the only thing that really matters is that Courtois is playing against the club that owns him, and he will no doubt want to send a very loud message to his owners in Madrid.
Behind the stellar play of Courtois and Costa, Atletico has thrust itself onto Europe’s main stage and is in a great position to totally shock the world and make a name for itself. Atletico have endured years of having to play in the long shadows of crosstown rivals Real Madrid and perennial powerhouse Barca, with their omnipresent football gods: Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi.
But make no mistake, this is no fluke—no flash-in-the-pan situation at Atletico. This is not a team riding just two hot players nor a very good coach and a very good fanbase. It’s much bigger and better than that, and Chelsea, so proud of its own special manager and fanbase and defense, has more than met its match here. Atletico Madrid manager Simeone is as good as they get, and the advantage the Blues fans have created at home is downright scary.
Unbeaten at home, Atletico (15-3-0, 48 goals for, nine goals against at home in La Liga) are also the only unbeaten team left in this prestigious tournament and have only conceded five goals in their 10 games. Chelsea’s suddenly anemic offense will really be put to the test, especially if Eden Hazard (14 goals) hasn’t fully recovered from the calf injury he sustained against Paris Saint-Germain.
On the other hand, Simeone’s team’s offense—from a 4-4-2 tactical formation—has been just fine thank you. The Rojiblancos attack has scored a team-record 109 goals in all competitions as players like David Villa (13 goals in La Liga), Raul Garcia (eight goals) and the sensational Koke (13 assists, six goals) have all contributed to the team’s dream season, while the defense has allowed a league-low 22 goals.
Los Rojiblancos have now won eight straight in La Liga and are unbeaten in their last 12 in all competitions, so the boys from West London are pretty much heading into the wrong place at the wrong time. The Blues will not only have to be at their absolute best but will have to hope a lot of other little things go their way.
Chelsea will need nagging injuries to Costa (hamstring) and Arda Turan (groin) to be aggravated, Courtois to have a bad game and make a mistake or two, luck and the referees to treat it kindly and Atletico players a booking away from suspension—Emiliano Insua, Juanfran, Gabi and Koke—to maybe get another card.
Losing someone of the caliber of team captain Gabi—who is second in all of Europe with 110 tackles—or playmaker Koke is nice to dream about heading in but nothing for the visitors to get too excited about heading into this unwelcoming environment.
No matter how it goes down from the Blues' perspective, it probably won’t be Springtime Fun in Spain, but Chelsea is known for pulling rabbits out of hats and did win the 2012 Champions League with huge road showings in Barcelona and Munich. Let's not forget that Chelsea are the defending UEFA Europa League champions, so this is a gritty club that’s not scared of anybody, anywhere.
Chelsea (23-6-8, 75 points) heads into this game firmly in second place in the English Premier League standings and a bit like a wounded dog after being shocked on Saturday by last-place Sunderland, 2-1. The result against the Black Cats snapped Mourinho’s 77-game unbeaten league streak at Stamford Bridge and gave league leaders Liverpool (25-5-5, 80 points) control of its own destiny, making Sunday’s long-awaited showdown at Anfield much less significant.
The Blues barely got to this stage of the competition, needing a last-minute Demba Ba miracle goal at home in the quarterfinals second leg to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain due to a valuable road goal (Eden Hazard, penalty kick) in the first leg versus Les Parisiens. Que sera sera. This is the year of the shin after all.
Besides Hazard’s hurt, Chelsea will also have to deal with the fact that left-back Branislav Ivanovic is suspended so Mourinho will probably employ either David Luiz or Ashley Cole in Ivanovic’s stead, but one never really knows with The Surprising One.
One thing’s for sure: The Blues would surely love to be able to use cup-tied January signees Nemanja Matic (Benfica) and Mohamed Salah (FC Basel) for this first leg at Vicente Calderon against this deep and talented Spanish side.
And I’m guessing most Chelsea fans are a bit ambivalent right about now about the fact that midfielder Ramires will be available after missing the second leg against PSG. The Blues are a surprising 22-8-7 with Ramires and 9-1-2 without the speedy Brazilian.
Midfielders Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel and Willian may also play here against Atletico but will need to be careful as all three are just a booking away from a ban. Logic dictates, if Mourinho employs Chelsea’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation, that Ramires and Lampard get the start.
Petr Cech will no doubt be in goal for the Blues with Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, captain John Terry and maybe Luiz in front of him. In the attacking midfield, expect Hazard to go alongside Willian and Andre Schurrle, while Samuel Eto’o will probably get the nod from Mourinho over Torres and Demba Ba at the striker spot.
But if Hazard’s healthy participation is an issue, Chelsea may end up having to play for a low-scoring draw and possibly trying to nab a precious road goal against their stubborn and imposing property, the 6’6” Courtois. Have you seen Frankenstein? It didn’t end real well for the little girl.
If the Blues can score here at Vicente Calderon, then hope will grow as Chelsea and Cech had nine straight shutouts at Stamford Bridge and didn’t allow a goal for over 840 minutes until allowing Sunderland’s Connor Wickham to score over the weekend. Like Atletico, the defense-minded Blues can be a very hard team to score against on their home soil.
With its stubborn defense, prolific offense, phenomenal goalkeeper and quietly one of the best home-field advantages in all of professional sports—23-4-1 in its last 28 in all competitions, the lone loss coming to Real Madrid in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals—Atletico has truly evolved into that beast that can shock the soccer world this year.
For Chelsea, beating Los Rojiblancos will be like beating themselves, trying to catch a break on the counter-attack against a tactically sound defensive side that lets nothing go through the middle and is both physically and mentally strong.
There will be bruises Wednesday.
One big thing to watch will be if the Blues can contain the 22-year-old Koke, who may just end up being the most important player on the pitch on Tuesday. As far as approach, and knowing what he’s up against, Mourinho will likely aim for for a low-scoring affair in which a 1-0 Atletico win wouldn’t be the end of the world and a 0-0 or 1-1 draw may actually seem like manna from the heavens.
With the high-flying Costa, Villa, Koke, Gabi, Tiago and Turan on the attack, Filipe Luis, Diego Godin, Miranda and Juanfran on defense in front of world-class goalkeeper Courtois, that valuable home crowd and history in its sights, Atletico will be a very tough opponent for Chelsea and should be able to find a way to score a goal on the Blues and head into next week’s second leg in London (April 30) with some momentum.
And with Chelsea’s mood likely affected by being unable to beat the 20th-place Black Cats at home in one of the biggest games of their domestic season, Hazard being a question mark, Ivanovic out and Matic and Salah cup-tied, staying in the game and trying to sneak out a draw or a lucky win may just be the Blues' game plan heading in.
Expect quality attempts on goal in this one to be few and far between.
PREDICTION: Atletico Madrid 1 Chelsea 0
BETS: Atletico Madrid Pick -250, Under 2½ -185
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