Leicester’s Cinderella story continued as they progressed to the Quarter Finals of the Champions League after beating Sevilla 3-2 on aggregate. And while many clubs were happy to dodge the Foxes in the next round, maybe this is the best draw possible for Atletico. Maybe it could be their year.
Atletico aren’t having a great season in La Liga. Currently they sit in fourth place and a staggering 20 points behind leaders Real Madrid. Their form has been erratic compared to previous seasons, but that hasn’t affected their Champions League campaign. They topped their group winning five from six games. It’s worth noting this was a group that featured German champions Bayern Munich and then they went onto dispatch Bayer Leverkusen in the Knockout Stage.
Playing against the Foxes in the Quarter Finals might not be a bad draw for Diego Simeone’s side due to the way he sets his team up. Leicester rely on catching teams on the break – depending on the blistering pace of Jamie Vardy and last year’s Premier League Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez. However, Atletico are renowned for playing very deep, thus minimising the space in between the goalkeeper and back four especially in central areas. They’ve also got the best defensive record in La Liga no part down to the defensive abilities of Stefan Savic and Diego Godin marshaling the back four. Atletico are a well-drilled side and could be the perfect foil for Leicester’s counter attacking style.
The Champions League is the only competition both club can actually win this season. Leicester are floundering in the bottom half of the Premier League table and out of all domestic clubs. The same can be said for Atletico in terms of domestic cups, so this set of matches takes on even more importance. The first leg will be at the Vincente Calderon Stadium in Madrid and is likely to be a close affair. One weakness the Foxes will be looking to exploit is Atletico’s vulnerability from set pieces. The most high profile lapse was in the Champions League Final when Sergio Ramos nodded in a last minute equalizer – Atletico then went onto lose the game. With Robert Huth and captain Wes Morgan, Leicester have two formidable headers of the ball in their starting line up and will certainly pose a threat over the two legs.
However, regardless of the threats that City pose to Simeone and his Atletico side, you cannot help but think this is the easiest draw in the Quarter Finals. Los Indios dodged the likes of Real, Barccelona, an in-form Monaco team, Dortmund and Juventus. Respected journalist Evan Bartlett a regular contributor to Betfair Champions League stated that despite Atletico’s poor league form, “Barcelona are the only side to have beaten Atletico Madrid in their last 19 games.” They are the type of resolute side that Leicester are yet to face in the CL this season. Simeone will set Atletico up in a way that they give little space for counter attacks, and will most likely rely on the pace of Antoine Griezmann, Yannick Carrasco and Angel Correa to hurt City on the break.
The Atletico defence isn’t without its admirers. Spanish midfielder Thiago even suggested that they “defend better than any other team in the world” in his interview with Goal before their Champions League Group Stage game. It is for this reason that Leicester will find it hard against Atletico. Even if Godin and Savic don’t play, they have Lucas Hernandez and Jose Gimenez they can bring into the side – two of the most promising defenders in La Liga. Their depth is impressive. Nullify the threat of Vardy and Mahrez over two legs, and Atletico might actually win the Champions League this season.