MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews the Champions League Last 16 second leg between Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen. The Germans take a 1-0 lead to Spain.
Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen | Tuesday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
I was absolutely adamant that Atletico Madrid wouldn’t lose in Leverkusen – so what do I know? Diego Simeone’s team were second best in a feisty first leg that saw eight yellow cards dished out and Tiago sent off for the Spaniards. He’ll be missing for the return fixture along with defensive lynchpin Diego Godin as Atleti look to overturn their 1-0 deficit.
Staunch supporters of the Mattress Makers will say the Madrid club were denied a leveller by the officials after a clear goal was ruled out but in truth, Atletico didn’t deserve anything from their trip to the BayArena and will need to improve their game in front of a packed Vicente Calderon.
The 2013/14 finalists are winless in four games now – the joint-longest streak without victory under Simeone’s watch – and even their longer-term form has to be questioned (W5-D4-L5 in all competitions since January). The defending Spanish champions have been unable to repeat last season’s high-intensity approach in recent weeks and there’s a big fear Atletico are running out of steam.
But there’s no better way to disprove that theory than a strong performance in front of your deafening supporters on a European night. This is where the Mattress Makers tend to come to the fore and their record of winning 20 of their previous 22 continental clashes on home soil is quite simply remarkable.
What’s more, the capital club have won W8-D1-L0 at the Calderon under Simeone in that time, scoring 24 goals and conceded just twice. Barcelona, Chelsea and Juventus are amongst five of the most recent visitors to their south-west Madrid base and none of them managed to grab a goal. Real Madrid have been nilled in both their visits in 2015 too.
Godin, ever present in Atletico’s Champions League games since the start of last season, might be missing but playmaking sensation Koke is back. And although doubts persist over Mario Mandzukic’s involvement (and relationship with Simeone), I just feel this is the sort of night the Mattress Makers’ squad show their teeth.
I’m genuinely surprised to see Atletico Madrid as big as 6/4 To Qualify (Spreadex). Of course, the away goals rule hands the advantage to Leverkusen but the hosts have the ability and know-how to win this match by two clear goals in 90 minutes.
Since the start of the season, Atleti have returned W16-D3-L2 figures at the Calderon with 13 of their 16 successes by a margin of two goals or more while they’ve posted 11 shutouts in those 21 outings too.
Leverkusen haven’t progressed further than the Last 16 since they were finalists in 2002 and their road record in knockout Champions League games is truly dreadful. Die Werkself have D1-L5 of their last six, leaking 18 goals and scoring just five.
During their Group C campaign they failed to net at Benfica and Monaco and with Emir Spahic, Tin Jedvaj and Lars Bender all doubts, coach Roger Schmidt faces a much sterner test than the bookmakers’ odds seem to suggest.
Yeah, Bayer have won five on the spin (all ‘to nil)’ but their three Bundesliga three-pointers came against the bottom-three in the league (Freiburg, Paderborn and Stuttgart).
A trip to the Calderon will test their nerve and whilst I won’t rule out the Germans getting a goal, I still believe the smart money should be on Atletico reaching the quarter-finals.
Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen – Atletico Madrid to qualify (6/4 Spreadex)
Is Mark right to believe Atletico will book their place in the last eight? Are you investing in Leverkusen? Are there better bets elsewhere?
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