CHRIS GRAHAM (@chrisgraham79) previews Leicester’s clash with Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night in the Champions League.
Atletico Madrid v Leicester | Wednesday 19:45 | BT Sport 2
This remarkable Leicester adventure that began back in August 2015 moves on to it’s perhaps final chapter this month in the Champions League Quarter-Finals.
The Foxes take on 2014 and 2016 Champions League runners-up Atletico Madrid in a Last 8 tie that looks intimidating to the core.
The English champions have been rejuvenated since dispensing with Claudio Ranieri and promoting Craig Shakespeare. They’ve won six of their seven matches under his charge and knocked out Sevilla in the preceding round of this competition.
Goals have been free-flowing. They’ve notched 17 times in these seven matches and have seen some of their key players from last season return to form.
Leicester have been a case study in psychology this season. While their slump in league form was always to be expected, I always felt they outperform their mark in the Champions League.
While they were handed a soft group in the opening round, they managed to negotiate it with little stress. Porto, FC Copenhagen and Club Brugge were all beaten and surpassed in the section. Maybe it was a weak group but Blackburn 21 years earlier found it too hard in a similar position as surprise English champions in Europe’s top competition.
Sevilla a major coup
Any chat that their passage to the knockout round was a fluke just had to shut up after Leicester knocked out Sevilla in the Round of 16.
The Spaniards pummelled Leicester in the first leg but emerged with just a 2-1 win before the Foxes won 2-0 on their own patch to go through.
This was the same Sevilla that were flying high in the Top 3 of La Liga and a side that had won the Europa League the past two seasons. They were in form and were masters of knockout football, it was a huge achievement for Leicester to knock them out.
Masters of knockout football
The English champions now face a side with a similar awe-inspiring record in knockout football. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid have been one of the top sides this decade in European football.
After winning the 2010 and 2012 Europa League they’ve moved up to the Champions League in the last four years and have excelled.
Runners-up in 2014 and 2016, they were narrow losers to Real Madrid in the Quarter-Finals of the competition in the middle year 1-0 on aggregate.
Atleti have played 44 games in this period and have lost just one knockout game at home. Barcelona (twice), Bayern Munich and Chelsea have all been knocked out by them since 2014. It’s a stunning record.
This tie though provides a different sort of test. Atleti are clear favourites and can’t play the role of pick-pocketers. Leicester are an unknown quantity for them and it many ways are a representation of them.
Both sides play on the backfoot and prefer to pinch rather than push for goals. Its an intriguing test for both sides here on Wednesday night.
Idealism v pragmatism
With 15 Atletico clean sheets in their last 17 Champions League games at the Vincente Calderon, this looks a mighty task for Leicester and that is reflected in their odds of 12/1.
I’m torn between the idealism of them shocking us again and the pragmatic facts that point towards Atletico being too strong on their own patch.
At odds of 1/3 it’s really hard to get excited about the home side, the win to nil option at Evens is certainly worth a second glance but instead I’ll take a goal spread of 2-3 goals at odds against.
This selection allows for a comfortable Atleti win (2-0, 3-0) but also covers the possibility of Leicester getting on the scoresheet. The 1-0 home win is the score I fear in relation to this bet.
Atletico Madrid v Leicester – Exactly 2-3 Goals (21/20 BetVictor)