Atletico Madrid head into Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg with Chelsea having recorded just one win in four matches, and having lost 2-0 to Levante at the weekend.
We have been speaking to Eurosport Spain's football experts Felix Martin and Jorge Ordas to find out what has been going wrong in recent weeks, and how Atleti will get on against Thomas Tuchel’s men.
A Trippier-shaped hole
Kieran Trippier’s absence has been felt by Atletico while he serves a Football Association ban for breaking rules on gambling. The Spanish side made no secret of their anger that the sanction applied worldwide, and it appears his influence on Diego Simeone’s side is becoming more and more obvious.
Atletico's Kieran Trippier is currently serving a ban for breaking The FA's rules on gambling
Image credit: Getty Images
“Atletico are missing Kieran Trippier a lot”, said Ordas.
“To be honest, Atletico’s fans and maybe inside the club, they are all very upset with the FA and the decision to uphold the ban on appeal. Atletico are not the guilty party and they are suffering the punishment.
“Talking about the tactical importance of Trippier, the best player this season is not Luis Suarez, Koke or Jan Oblak, but Marcos Llorente.
“Simeone decided to change his position from defensive midfielder to right midfielder and his best performances are working with Trippier in the right wing-back role.
“Without Tripper, Sime Vrsaljko or Llorente have had to play in his position, and the result is not the same”.
A good time for Chelsea to play Atletico?
Atletico go into their tie with Chelsea top of La Liga, but having suffered a surprise 2-0 defeat to Levante, so is this the perfect opportunity for the Premier League side to face a team which dispatched Liverpool out of Europe last season?
“I honestly think that it is impossible to find a good time to face Atletico Madrid,” said Martin.
“To me, they’re the hardest team in Europe to be defeated in 180 minutes because of the intensity with which they play.
“Chelsea fans should be wondering whether it is a good time to face Atleti, as they were not able to beat Southampton at the weekend.”
Ordas believes it is 50-50 as to which team will go through: “I think it’s a good time for Chelsea to play against Atletico but not only because of their last two games, but Chelsea’s performance under Tuchel.
“They haven’t conceded many goals and this is one of the most important ingredients to have a successful tie against Atletico.”
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Flat, lifeless and slow - what does Simeone need to change?
After the defeat to Levante, Simeone was damning of his team’s performance, describing it as “flat, lifeless and slow”. The result followed a 1-1 draw with the same opponents just three days before, but Martin believes there is no need for fans to worry about those matches.
“I don’t think that he needs to change much”, he said.
“Simeone may need to motivate his players, but he’s an expert on this. He’s a very intense guy and the team is always like a mirror of his personality.
“But there’s not much he needs to do, the whole environment, Champions League, knockout stage, facing a huge team like Chelsea is probably motivation enough for Atleti to show that they can go far in this season’s competition.”
Suarez the difference?
Luis Suarez has made a huge impact since joining from Barcelona last summer, scoring 16 goals in all competitions. That impressive return makes his three matches without hitting the net look like a lean run, but Ordas believes it means little.
Luis Suarez has made a huge impact since joining from Barcelona last year
Image credit: Getty Images
“I’m not very worried about this”, he said.
“Luis Suarez will score again. But he couldn’t score during the group phase - partly because he had a positive coronavirus test in November - and it has always been said that he may have problems in Champions League games away from home.
“In my personal opinion, he has been a very big surprise. I didn’t expect his teamwork, his leadership and the positive mentality that he shares with the team.”
Will Atletico miss home comforts?
Coronavirus travel restrictions mean Atletico will not be able to play their ‘home’ leg at Wanda Metropolitano, with Romanian capital Bucharest stepping up to host the match instead. But with no fans able to attend the match anyway, Martin believes the venue could be far worse for Simeone’s side.
“I don’t think there’s much of a difference except for the fact that they will have to travel”, he said.
“Atleti has great memories in Bucharest, you may remember the 2012 Europa League final against Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao, with Falcao scoring two goals in that match.”
“I hope they can repeat the result!”, added Ordas.