Chelsea go in to this Champions League semi-final first leg knowing their main priority is to stifle La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.
The Blues are playing in their seventh Champions League semi in 11 years, and with the second leg at Stamford Bridge their aim will be to keep things at least level going in to the return fixture. Jose Mourinho will be looking to frustrate Atletico, especially since they’re such a tough side to play at the Vincente Claderon.
Mourinho has lost at this stage with Chelsea before, but both of those ties were against Liverpool, and both had Chelsea away from home in the second leg. The Blues showed against PSG that they can beat one of Europe’s best at home, and they’ll be extremely confident of going through if they could get a draw in Spain.
In terms of team news, Chelsea will be without their two January signings Nemanja Matic and Mohammed Salah, who are both cup tied in this competition. Mourinho is likely to go for the more defensive pairing of Ramires and David Luiz in holding midfield positions, to break up play and frustrate the opposition.
Aside from that the only player that Chelsea have any worries over is Eden Hazard, who went off injured in their last Champions League game. Hazard is likely to return, but he may not be fit enough to start the game.
The only real selection question over Chelsea’s team, should Hazard make it, is in the forward position. Demba Ba’s good form could see him start, especially since Mourinho doesn’t like playing Eto’o away from home. Former Atletico man Fernando Torres could make a return against his former club, but his recent form doesn’t really justify a start.
For Atletico, they can select on loan Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, after UEFA ruled that Chelsea couldn’t have any say in the Spaniard’s team selection. There are rumours, however, that Atletico will still not play the Belgian stopper, to ensure they can retain his services on loan next season.
They could also be without Chelsea target Diego Costa, who suffered a nasty injury in their league win over Getafe last week. Costa slid in to the post just after scoring his side’s second, leaving a large cut on his leg. The club have said he should return for this game, but the concern over him suggests this one might be more serious than they admit.
Chelsea are likely to go here with the spirit of 2012’s Champions League winning side. Atletico aren’t the most difficult team left in the draw, but they can be dangerous going forward. There is likely to be a backs-to-the-wall display here, with a counter attacking edge shown in the 1-0 win over City at the Etihad. That kind of defensive display would be great – if it works – and an away goal would be a huge boost. Keeping the Spanish side quiet is still going to be the main aim, and certainly no easy task.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to grind out a 0-0