SPANISH champions Atletico Madrid travel to Germany for an intriguing Last 16 clash. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his view on the game from Leverkusen.
Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid | Wednesday 19.45 | Sky Sports 5
We all remember Atletico Madrid’s glorious 2014 La Liga triumph and their heartbreaking Champions League final defeat. Their domestic title success ranked as one of the biggest upsets in the modern game as they overcame the Spanish superpowers of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Well, Atleti are back and meaning business. Once again the Mattress Makers will give their opponents hell as they bid to go one better than last year and clinch continental glory. Despite the sales of a selection of last season’s heroes, Diego Simeone has moulded another almost immovable object and we’ve just got to find a way of siding with them on Wednesday night.
Diego Costa joined Chelsea in the summer but the partnership between newcomers Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann continues to blossom for the Rojiblancos; between them they’ve netted 10 goals in Atletico’s last six games. That included a historic 4-0 thumping of city rivals Real as the side continues to evolve under the Argentine boss.
The visitors will offer a threat from set-pieces like no other, an electric counter-attack, an aggressive pressing game and tremendous resilience and organisational skills. Every player will know what’s expected of them and although Koke’s likely to miss out, there’s more than enough star quality in this squad to give Europe’s best a serious headache.
Just look at the Mattress Makers’ record in Champions League football under Simeone – W13-D5-L1. How about on their travels? That’s just one defeat in nine. OK, well lets talk knockout football? Sure, they’ve W4-D5-LO. Throw in the fact they’ve kept clean sheets in their last five group games and you’ll see just why I can’t resist the wonderful charm of Atleti.
I’m going to take the 8/11 from Ladbrokes on Atletico in the Draw No Bet market, keeping the draw onside for a touch of insurance. If the game ends all square, I’ll get my cash back. It’s a solid play. I don’t see the Spaniards losing this.
Seeing as we reminisced about Atleti’s wonderful 2014, it’s worth bringing up Leverkusen’s rotten record in Champions League knockout games. Last season they were spanked by PSG and they’ve now been beaten in their last seven matches after progressing through the group-stage. What’s worse is, they’ve scored just six goals and leaked an eye-watering 24 in those seven fixtures. Gulp.
Bayer must do without influential centre-half Omer Toprak and there’s doubts over Lars Bender’s involvement too. Meanwhile, Stefan Kießling’s erratic form could lead to Josip Drmic starting in the centre-forward role as Roger Schmidt searches for the elusive magic formula.
Die Werkself were forced to settle for a point at Augsburg at the weekend after Marwin Hitz's late equaliser and have bagged just two wins from their 10 matches sandwiched either side of the winter break. With nine goals against in their last three outings against Wolfsburg (five), Werder Bremen (two) and Augsburg (two), Toprak’s absence could be cataclysmic against their streetwise visitors.
It’s a sorry tale for Leverkusen who started the season full of verve, ideas and with serious aspirations in cementing themselves as Germany’s second club. But there were signs of toil even during their Champions League group campaign. Placed in one of the competition’s softer pools, the Germans struggled to second place behind Monaco, sneaking in ahead of Zenit.
As a neutral I’d hope for a ding-dong battle but in truth, I can’t see anything else than comfortable progression for Atletico over two legs and I’ll back them to come away from the Bay Arena with a positive result.
Bayer Leverkusen v Atletico Madrid – Atletico Madrid draw no bet (8/11 Ladbrokes)
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