CHAMPIONS LEAGUE | BAYER LEVERKUSEN - ATLÉTICO
Vengeance for Lisbon starts tonight in Leverkusen
Atleti will play with Arda, Griezmann y Mandzukic and are favorites against Bayer (20:45, CET). The German side are daring but weak defensively and are without talisman, Bender.
In his time as Atleti coach, Simeone has participated in six different tournaments and has won five, all apart from the Champions League which slipped from his hands in Lisbon last May. With the group phase out of the way now the time for revenge starts. Their first rivals are Bayer Leverkusen, a team who play well but in theory should be easy prey for Atlético, in theory …
There are 20 minute spells in every game where Bayer look like world-beaters, their inspiration accompanying their intention: pressurizing the opposition, playing with speed and attacking with urgency. An attractive proposition with the hallmark of coach, Roger Schmidt. Incidentally Guardiola claims to be a big admirer of Schmidt. The German side are capable of netting three times but shipping four at the same time. If Atleti are able to restrain these moments of local passion then the tie should have the same effect as depriving Superman of kriptonite.
Although it would be sentimental to see Fernando Torres make his Champions League debut with Atlético, Simeone has no plans to meddle with a winning combination so Mandzukic and Griezmann will lead the attack. The Croatian has struck before against Bayer (three goals between his time at both Wolfsburg and Bayern) and Schmidt was full of praise for him yesterday: “He’s a special player”. On the subject of special players, Arda is carrying a slight knock but with Koke still recovering from his hamstring pull, he‘s set to play. Griezmann has spent the past two months wreaking havoc on all rival defenses and it would appear complicated that Spahic and Papadopoulos will be the ones to stop him.
With the absence of Bender, the danger-man tonight for Atleti is Kiessling, who is still a doubtful starter as a result of a flu virus. Whilst not being the player who scored 27 goals two seasons ago he’s still a threat for the Atleti rearguard. On the flanks, Juanfran and Siqueira will need to keep an eye on Son and Bellarabi, both quick players who can create problems. The danger in the middle of the pitch is Çalhanoglu, one of the best players in this seasons Bundesliga. Technically gifted with great vision and with an excellent right foot. Atleti will do themselves a favour by avoiding conceding free-kicks near to their area with this guy around.
This year Atleti can’t claim the title of dark-horses. They are the fifth favorites with bookmakers to win the competition. Cholo wants revenge and as we saw with John Wayne in The Desert Trail or Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, it’s a powerful motivation.