The final match of the Champions League group stage is here, and on Tuesday night, Chelsea face Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have already qualified for the Champions League round of 16 with their victory in the last matchday against Qarabag, but a win over Atletico will ensure that the Blues will finish top in their group.
Atletico, on the other hand, have an awful lot at stake in this match. Atletico must win at Stamford Bridge to give them any hope of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League while hoping that Qarabag frustrate Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Chelsea will have fond memories of the first fixture between these two clubs this season. A 2-1 win in Madrid spoiled Atletico’s first fixture in continental competition at the Wanda Metropolitano and was possibly the Blues’ best performance to date.
Despite having already qualified for the knockout rounds, Chelsea will want to finish atop the group.
For Chelsea, finishing top of Group C would be the icing on the cake for their return to Europe’s elite cup competition.
Despite being in pot 1 after winning the Premier League, Group C has been a bit of a tricky group, especially given the quality of Atletico Madrid and Roma combined with the tricky proposition of two matches against an unknown quantity in Qarabag.
Aside from the two fixtures against Roma, Chelsea have dealt with this group very well, registering three wins in matches against Atletico and Qarabag.
One more win would earn them top spot in the group, and as it stands right now, would see Real Madrid and Juventus as the trickiest of their possible opponents in the round of 16.
Obviously, that will be left to be determined, but with all of the English teams in position to finish atop their group, if Chelsea were to finish second, it’d be incredibly likely that they would have to face Barcelona or PSG in the next round.
The Blues have been in good form as of late and will want to keep that momentum going. A second victory over Atletico would be a significant achievement for Chelsea this season, and finishing top of the group would just be the icing on the cake.
How will Diego Simeone cope with the 3-5-2 the second time around?
In the first meeting between Atletico and Chelsea, Atletico manager Diego Simeone seemed perplexed at times with how to get through Chelsea’s 3-5-2 formation.
Despite the 2-1 score, Chelsea were far the better side on the night. David Luiz’s pull of the shirt provided the penalty for the Atletico opener, but Chelsea were very much in control and were probably unfortunate to be behind after the first half and need a late winner from Michy Batshuayi.
During the course of that match, Simeone tried all sorts of various formations in attempt to gain some measure of control of the midfield battle. Simeone’s default formation is a sort of 4-4-2, though Antoine Griezmann often plays a freer role behind his partner striker.
Against Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 on the night, Atletico found it very difficult as they were outnumbered in the midfield. While Eden Hazard, playing a free role behind Alvaro Morata, tormented Atletico in the final third, it was really the time and space that Cesc Fabregas was able to find in order to control the midfield.
The 3-5-2 suits Fabregas much in the same way it suited Andrea Pirlo, but with a slight twist in the dynamic. With Fabregas, it gives him licence to either play deeper in a Pirlo-like role if needed, but most of the time, it gives him the freedom to get closer to Morata and Hazard and play in the pockets of space between midfield and attack.
Against Atletico, Fabregas did a bit of both and it really confounded the Spanish side, causing Simeone to switch around his midfield, even going to a three-man midfield at times, in effort to try and combat Fabregas’ effectiveness.
The same problem will confront Simeone on Tuesday night. He’s unlikely to change his initial style of play, but his side will have to come out with a clear plan to control the midfield. So much of what Atletico do well comes from the two central midfielders and their ability to combine with Griezmann up front. But if they lose the midfield battle, it could be a long night.
Danny Drinkwater shows why he wasn’t a panic buy.
Some questioned the logic of signing Danny Drinkwater on deadline day and why Chelsea were so desperate to land a player for £35 million that isn’t a big-name signing. It’s taken a while because of a couple of injuries, but we’re now starting to see the reasoning behind the signing.
Drinkwater isn’t the player that’s going to top assist charts or score you double-digit goals from midfield, but in Conte’s 3-5-2, he’s the perfect fit.
When Conte’s 3-5-2 system has been successful with Italy and Juventus, it was because the two midfielders around Pirlo were able to play box-to-box, but also move the ball well and take up intelligent positions out of possession. It kept teams from being able to focus solely on Pirlo because you always had at least one other midfielder that could offer a passing threat. That’s what Drinkwater offers you right now that Tiemoue Bakayoko doesn’t.
Bakayoko is clearly still adapting to life in Premier League, particularly the lack of time you have to make a decision when on the ball. In recent weeks, it’s led to counter attacks and moves breaking down when he’s in possession. It’s not that he’s a bad player. It’s just that you can see he’s taken too long to decide what to do.
With Drinkwater in the side against both Swansea and Newcastle, it’s clear that he fills that role better than Bakayoko at the minute. While you lose a bit of physicality and pace with Drinkwater, you gain the ability to stay composed on the ball in support of the more creative attackers.
Alongside Kante, it’s given Chelsea a bit more of an ability to control the midfield with the ball and not have to rely on Fabregas as much, and it’s moving every so closer to something resembling the balance Conte had a Juventus with Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal, both of whom played box-to-box and could also pass the ball well.