After what was nothing but a bore-draw away to Valencia, Atletico Madrid travel to Rome hoping to give their fans a bit more to be happy about in the UEFA Champions League.
Diego Simeone has transformed Atletico Madrid from a mid-table team to Europe’s top table. Now is the time for the club to take the last remaining step forward in their journey for glory and go all the way in the Champion League.
Only one team — Real Madrid — has knocked Atleti out of Europe in the past four seasons and they have been heartbreakingly close in the two finals they have reached. Simeone, however, will never let that wear his players down . He is always looking forward. “It’s such a sense of pride to get to the finals and to win it would be the ultimate,” Simeone said.
“We lost one in the last minute and then another on penalties against Madrid. We’ve got experience and we’ve attained some big results in the Champions League. If we carry on as we are doing, getting closer, sooner or later we’ll win it.”
They were strong words from the coach, but he has a valid point. Atleti are second in the UEFA rankings, have built up a wealth of experience in this competition — sending out the likes of group opponents Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Barcelona (amongst others) over the past four seasons.
It will also be a special night for their Argentine manager, who spent four years at Roma’s neighbours Lazio — although he already know he will probably not expect the warmest of welcomes from the home crowd.
Yet the match is also superb because it is perhaps Los Colchoneros’ most important game of the group, even at this very early stage.
A win away to Roma would leave the Italians chasing from the off and with Atleti’s back-to-back games against Qarabag in matches three and four you would expect them to pull away from Eusebio Di Francesco’s side and find their rhythm from there.
But the issue is, any slip up away to Roma would mean that Chelsea’s visit on Matchday 2 would be crucially important.
If all goes as expected, the English champions will get off to a winning start against the Azeri debutants and come to Madrid with their hosts desperately needing all three points. Under normal circumstances you would back Atletico to defeat anyone at home in Europe, however with the club yet to even make their league debut in their new Wanda Metropolitano stadium, you never know how what a new stadium can cause.
Things are that tough in what is one of this season’s tougher groups, however with Antoine Griezmann — suspended for the last two league games — back to lead the line and the likes of Saul Niguez and Yannick Carrasco often saving their best performances for the UCL nights, Atletico have nothing to fear. They are the side to beat in this group, even if Chelsea won their league last year.