The semifinals of the UEFA Champions League kickoff in Madrid, where Atletico Madrid and Chelsea square off. Both teams are coming off thrilling climaxes in the quarterfinal stage. Atletico held off Spanish rivals Barcelona, while Chelsea overcame a 3-1 deficit to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain.
Both sides are heavily involved in the title chases of their respective leagues. Atletico sit atop of the La Liga table, four points clear of second place Barcelona, and six points clear of third place Real Madrid. Chelsea sit second in the English Premier League, five points adrift of Liverpool.
Both teams will need to fight off the distractions of their domestic leagues, but both will have to be aware of the lineups they put out, as they try to balance out playing time for their squads. This could become a battle of attrition.
The most intriguing figure in this tie could very well be Diego Costa. The Atletico striker has been linked to an offseason transfer to Chelsea for next season. While both sides deny this, the move would make sense. Chelsea are in desperate need of a striker, Costa does have 35 goals in all competitions to lead Atletico, and Chelsea can afford to pay him while Atletico will need the money. For the moment, Chelsea will have to worry about Costa potentially eliminating the Blues from the Champions League. Costa is a brilliant player, who can beat opponents in multiple fashions. The Brazilian born, Spanish International has stepped into the spotlight this season, with intentions of becoming one of the elite players to watch for years to come.
David Villa should join Costa up front as Atletico will most likely lineup in a traditional 4-4-2 formation. The former Barcelona forward does have 15 goals in all competitions, but has yet to find the back of the net in Champions League competition. Villa will need to place his name on the score sheet, if Los Colchoneros want to make the trip to Lisbon next month.
The talismanic figure in the midfield is Raul Garcia. A brilliant passer, Garcia can also finish off scoring opportunities, scoring 15 times in all competitions including 4 goals in European competition. Garcia will give Chelsea fits, if he’s given space, so he should expect pressure from all corners of the pitch.
Koke was the hero in Atletico’s quarterfinal tie against Barcelona, as his goal in the fifth minute of the second leg, secured Atletico’s spot in the semifinal. Koke will use pace along the left flank, in an attempt to run Chelsea ragged.
Tiago Mendes and Gabi should be the holding midfielders. Tiago, the Portuguese International brings experience and versatility while Gabi is an intelligent player who is a strong positionally.
Diego Godin and Joao Miranda are expected to be the central defenders. Godin, the Uruguayan International is a sturdy, no-nonsense defender while Miranda, the Brazilian International is a lanky yet deceptively solid defender.
Fillipe Luis and Juanfran will be the left back and right back respectively.
Thibault Courtois is expected to be the starting keeper. The Belgian International is another interesting face to this fixture as he joined Atletico on loan from Chelsea.
With key fixtures in Europa and the EPL to consider, Jose Mourinho has some difficult decisions to make. A vital match against Liverpool awaits on Sunday that could determine the EPL title, which is sandwiched between the two Atletico fixtures. So the lineup Mourinho chooses will have to be deep.
The Special One has used a 4-2-3-1 formation for most of the season, playing a possession game over a spatial game. One thing is certain, Samuel Eto’o will not be available due to knee irritation. Former Atletlico striker Fernando Torres could get the call, but Andre Schurrle is another option at Mourinho’s disposal.
The drama in the midfield surrounds Eden Hazard. The Belgian International missed a training session due to a calf problem and could be out of the lineup. It is possible that Mourinho could be saving Hazard for the Liverpool fixture on the weekend. It is entirely possible that Chelsea could go with a trio of Brazilian attacking midfielders. Oscar, Ramires and Willian could all be on the team sheet for Mourinho’s side.
Veteran Frank Lampard would be a solid choice as a holding midfielder. The England International doesn’t have the pace that he used to, but has the guile to be a positive contributor on the pitch. Nigerian International John Obi Mikel and Serbian International Nemanja Matic are options as defensive midfielders.
One option that has been taken away from Mourinho is Branislav Ivanovic who is suspended for the first leg. There are many reports that Ashley Cole could return to the lineup, after suffering a knee injury in England’s friendly against Denmark in early March.
Cesar Azpilicueta could start at either right or left back, depending on Cole’s fitness level. David Luiz could also make the team sheet. Veterans John Terry and Gary Cahill are the likely central defenders.
Petr Cech will be the starting keeper. The excellent Czech Republic International remains one of the best between the sticks and will be called upon to thwart the likes of Costa and Villa.
If you favour experience, Chelsea are the bet. If fitness is the key to victory, Atletico will advance. That said, this could go either way. How will Chelsea’s fractured back four contain Costa? Can Atletico handle Chelsea’s depth in the midfield? Will either side be distracted from their domestic squabbles? This could be a very entertaining tie, but experience will overcome youth. Chelsea squeaks by and will go to Lisbon next month.
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