Chelsea’s Champions A campaign resumes Wednesday night with an away trip to face Atletico Madrid. While Atletico always present a tough challenge and the atmosphere around Madrid a raucous one, Wednesday night could be particularly hostile as Chelsea’s meeting with Atletico will be the first European match played at Atletico’s new ground, the Wanda Metropolitano.
Woven into the back drop of this match is the Diego Costa saga. The Brazilian-born striker unofficially, made his move last Thursday when Atletico Madrid and Chelsea finally reached an agreement for his transfer to the Spanish side, and Costa was on hand for Atletico’s 2-0 victory over Sevilla at the Wanda given that he cannot be registered to play until January because of the conditions of Atletico’s transfer ban.
Although three years have past since Chelsea faced Atletico in the semi-finals of the Champions League, Diego Simeone’s side remains very similar to the one that defeated the Blues 3-1 on aggregate over two legs.
Some of the names may have changed and they may not be quite as nasty as in the past, but the hard-nosed, non-comprising spirit that Simeone instilled in this team during his stint as manager remains the backbone of his side.
Since that meeting, Atletico have added a bit of magic to their steely approach. Antoine Griezmann came in and has established himself as the main goal-scoring threat for Atletico, and over the past few years, the emergence of Saul Niguez and the addition of Yannick Carrasco has given them creativity that wasn’t necessarily a strong point three years ago.
If Atletico have one weakness, it is their strikers that are not named Griezmann. Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres haven’t really given them a viable second scoring option to Griezmann in the final third. The addition of Luciano Vietto this summer was intended to aid in creating scoring opportunities, but his play has been inconsistent.
That hasn’t stopped Atletico from going unbeaten so far this year, and on Matchday 1, they earned a draw against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico, though in reality, they created enough chances but lacked a cutting edge in front of goal.
Chelsea, on the other hand, rested a number of players on Matchday 1 against Qarabag and still ran out 6-0 winners against the inexperienced Azerbaijan champions.
Manager Antonio Conte rotated his squad once again at the weekend against Stoke in a 4-0 victory, with Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, and Gary Cahill are starting on the bench before coming on as substitutes.
Hazard, in particular, has been managed carefully at the start of this season after undergoing surgery on a broken ankle over the summer, but might be in line to start against Atletico. Conte has not committed to starting him, though, suggesting that he might prefer to ease him back into the starting 11 to prevent further injury issues.
Cahill, on the other hand, is a different matter. The Chelsea captain hasn’t endured the best start to the season, though he still remains a very good defender. The main issue for Cahill is that the performances of Antonio Rudiger during Cahill’s suspension early in the season has put the Chelsea captain’s position in the regular 11 under a bit of threat, and Conte has remained noncommittal as to whether he starts on Wednesday night or not. It’s likely that will be a decision to be taken on the day.
One positive for Chelsea is in attack, particularly Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard has started to banish memories of Costa with 6 goals in 6 appearances for Chelsea this season, adding 2 assists to that total. His hat trick against Stoke was his best performance in a Chelsea shirt to date and was quite reminiscent of Torres’ performances when he first arrived at Liverpool.
Despite his excellence against Stoke, the spotlight will shine on him against Atletico, especially after his subpar performance against Arsenal two weeks ago. To be fair to Morata, Chelsea overall were poor on that day, but the fact that Arsenal were able to push him around physically raised a few questions about his ability to lead the line. Those questions may arise again when facing the likes of Stefan Savic and Diego Godin, who aren’t known as the nicest centre backs on the planet.
It will likely be a tough night away from home for the Blues in Madrid, but after the results of Matchday 1, a draw at the Wanda would be considered a good result in what might be their toughest fixture in their group.