Barcelona’s mauling of Manchester City has seen their odds of lifting the Champions League this season slashed, but is ANY team really capable of besting Simeone’s Atletico in a two-legged knockout tie?
Having reached the final twice in three seasons, and coming agonisingly close to tasting victory on both occasions, Atletico Madrid’s pedigree in Europe’s premier competition cannot be questioned.
If Jose Mourinho invented the blueprint for grinding out a nervy win over two legs, Diego Simeone has perfected it. Under the careful (and, at times, menacing) tutelage of El Cholo, Atletico’s players have woven together the perfect mix of defensive cohesion and devastating counter-attacking.
At the back they are as well-drilled as any team the Champions League has ever seen, led by the ruthless Diego Godin, who is to Simeone what Roy Keane was to Alex Ferguson – that is, his on-field embodiment, who he will probably one day go on to loathe.
Going forward, Antoinne Griezmann’s goal-scoring touch gives Los Colchoneros a potent attacking threat, and you get the feeling the penalty he squirmed in last season’s final has only re-ignited the fire in his belly (the Frenchman has already found his best form this season and we’re only in October).
Atletico have already overcome Ancelotti’s Bayern in the group stage, having seen off both the Germans and Barca en route to Milan last year. While some teams wilt under the glare of the bright lights, Diego Simeone and his team get stronger, their defensive lines tighter.
Not even Barcelona, whose forward line of Messi, Suarez and Neymar is perhaps the best the game has ever seen, can find a way to break their resolve – and certainly not over two legs.
In last season’s quarter final between the two sides, Fernando Torres stunned the Catalans by putting his side in the driving seat early on at the Nou Camp. For all their attacking brilliance, Barca never regained control – even after the former Chelsea striker saw red.
When they take the lead, Diego Simeone’s side are virtually unbeatable – and that’s why they are favourites to lift the Champions League this year.