A tense, tightly-contested evening of football should be expected when Chelsea host Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday (19:45 BST, live on Sky Sports).
The first leg in Madrid ended in a 0-0 draw, with Atletico toiling away to little reward against a deep-lying Chelsea defence that stood firm throughout. The Blues offered scant attacking threat of their own, with Fernando Torres isolated up front.
Chelsea followed that result with another display of defensive competence in Sunday’s 2-0 win away to Liverpool, which moved them to within two points of the league leaders with two matches left to play. They have 78 points from 24 wins, six draws and six defeats.
The Blues progressed to the Champions League knockout stages by topping Group E with 12 points from four wins and two defeats. They beat Galatasaray 3-1 on aggregate in the round of 16, but were given a far sterner test in their quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain, eventually going through on away goals following a 3-3 aggregate draw.
Defending has clearly been Chelsea’s strong point this season. The clean sheet against Liverpool was their 17th of the Premier League season and their fifth in their last six matches in all competitions. Jose Mourinho is a specialist in defensive organisation and has clearly prioritised this element of his team this season.
Chelsea have been less impressive going forward, particularly against teams content to sit back and soak up pressure. The likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar (pictured) and Willian provide ample speed and ingenuity on the counter-attack, but without a reliable central reference point ahead of them have laboured to little effect against defensively aligned opponents.
Mourinho has a host of absentees for this match, with Petr Cech (shoulder), injured, Frank Lampard and Jon Obi Mikel suspended and Mohamed Salah and Nemanja Matic cup-tied. John Terry (ankle), Eden Hazard (hamstring) and Samuel Eto’o (knee) are all doubtful.
Atletico Madrid come into the second leg on the back of a 1-0 victory over Villarreal that saw them maintain their position at the top of the Primera Division table with just three matches left to play. They have a club-record 88 points from 28 wins, four draws and three defeats.
Diego Simeone’s side made it through to the Champions League knockout stages by winning Group G, with 16 points from five wins and one draw. They comfortably defeated AC Milan 5-1 on aggregate in the round of 16, before eking out a 2-1 aggregate victory over fellow La Liga side Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
Like Chelsea, it is in defence that Atletico have been most impressive this season. Sunday’s clean sheet was their 20th in 35 league matches, while they also have the best defensive record of the four Champions League semi-finalists. Strong, hard-working and well-organised, they control space and make it difficult for opponents to create high-quality chances.
In attack, Simeone possesses, in Diego Costa, a top-line striker around whom to centre his side’s swift, efficient counter-attacks. Costa has notched 35 goals in all competitions, but is not the only goal threat, with David Villa and Raul Garcia each having scored 15 or more in all competitions. Gabi and Koke are the most regular providers of assists.
Simeone will be without the suspended Gabi for Wednesday’s match, but looks to have no serious injury concerns ahead of the visit to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea v Atletico Madrid Betting Tips
Last week’s first leg was the third time these sides have met in the Champions League. Chelsea won the previous match between them at Stamford Bridge by a score of 4-0, while the other match in Madrid also ended in a draw. Atletico, with Simeone in the dugout, were 4-1 victors when the sides met in the European Super Cup final of 2012.
Both teams are strong in defence and potent on the counter-attack, a mixture that resulted in a stalemate during the first leg at the Vicente Calderon. Chelsea were, however, particularly defensive in their approach during that match and as the home team can be expected to be a little more adventurous.
It is certain to be a hard-fought, attritional match, with goals at a premium. Atletico carry a slightly bigger threat in the final third and we believe that will be sufficient to see them progress to the final at Chelsea’s expense.