Chelsea have very little time to ponder the ramifications of Saturday’s loss to Sunderland as they travel to Madrid for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final. Jose Mourinho’s sarcastic praise for the referee, per the Chelsea website, absolved his players from blame for the loss which ended their title challenge, and his own unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge, but he is unlikely to accept the same standard on Tuesday.
That this match comes just a few days after the effective end of their domestic season is only part of the narrative. The majority of the focus will be on whether on-loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois starts for Atletico Madrid, per Goal.com, and the long-term implications of his performance. However, Blues’ supporters will be hoping that Petr Cech has recovered from the mystery illness that kept him out at the weekend in time to start at the Vicente Calderon.
Cesar Azpilicueta conceded a controversial penalty at the weekend but will revert to his natural position at right-back for this crucial Champions League tie while Branislav Ivanovic serves a suspension, per UEFA.com. Ashley Cole should come back into the side at left-back, while Gary Cahill and John Terry make up the most likely centre-half pairing.
David Luiz is one of the best players in the Blues squad when it comes to the big games, and he should start on Tuesday. With Nemanja Matic cup-tied and both Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel at risk of suspension if booked, Ramires is the most likely partner for Luiz in the holding role.
Willian created 9 chances against Sunderland. No player has created more in a single Premier League game this season. pic.twitter.com/5wMvITijPS— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 21, 2014
Willian would also miss the home leg if he picks up a yellow card in Madrid, but with Eden Hazard unlikely to be fit for this tie, the Brazilian’s contribution will be crucial for Chelsea. He created nine chances for his team-mates on Saturday, more than any Premier League player in a single game, and with Mohamed Salah cup-tied he will need to make the most of his pace and tenacity.
Oscar is likely to return to the No. 10 role despite a significant drop in form in the latter half of the season. Andre Schurrle should complete the attacking trio on the right.
Mourinho has made it clear that he finds Samuel Eto’o to be most effective at Stamford Bridge, per ESPN, and considering Fernando Torres’ history at Atletico, Demba Ba could find himself starting up front. Ba was Chelsea’s hero against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-final and his poaching instincts could be the key to breaking down a determined Atletico side.
While the controversy over Courtois has been the major talking point of this fixture, there are still 180 minutes of football to play. Atletico line up in a similar style to Chelsea, with Diego Simeone a long-term admirer of Mourinho's talents, per Marca. While this could be a drab stalemate, memories of the 2009 semi-final loss to Barcelona should prompt Chelsea to go for an away goal to give them the crucial advantage for the home leg next week.