Two years after dethroning Inter Milan as the kings of Europe in Monaco, Atlético earned themselves a second chance to knock the current Champions League title-holders off their high horse.
The annual UEFA Super Cup match-up between the winners of the Champions League and the tournament’s inferior sibling – the Europa League – pits Chelsea against Atleti on Friday.
The last edition of the early season showpiece that will take place at the Stade Louis II, where the event has been held since 1998, kicks off at 20:45 CET.
While Atlético’s La Liga campaign is fully underway, Friday’s clash is the one the Rojiblanco faithful marked on their calendars months ago when Chelsea bested Bayern Munich in a penalty shoot-out to lift Europe’s pinnacle club title 10 days after los Rojiblancos had trounced Athletic Bilbao in Bucharest.
It’s the type of game that reminds supporters of the club’s glory days, when Atlético Madrid walked shoulder to shoulder with the continent’s finest and was a perennial legitimate candidate for the Spanish league title.
Those times are long gone, and we are left to treasure the rare moments when the global football spotlight shines on our beautiful colours.
But this time, it’s a little different.
Atleti fans have been agonising over the bittersweet idea of having to face off against one of their own flesh and blood in Fernando Torres, while ‘El Niño’ has probably experienced a bit of distress himself in contemplation of lining up against his beloved stripes.
The Atlético youth product admitted earlier in the year that he celebrates his boyhood club’s victories more than his own team’s, and on Thursday he made it clear he would not celebrate a goal against his former side.
“This game couldn’t be more special for me,” ‘the Kid’ told reporters.
“I only knew support at Atlético – I am one of them and they know that. They are not only my former club but also the club I support – I have to leave all these things aside. The aim is to win this cup. We’re here to win. It’s the only aim I have – I will put my feelings aside for 90 minutes and after that I am a fan again.”
Torres won’t be the only person whose allegiance will be tested.
Chelsea’s on-loan-at-Atleti goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois will go head-to-head with his future team-mates after convincing the Blues’ coaching staff to let him take part in this encounter.
The Blues’ road to the Super Cup was an uphill battle, though they showed a lot of resolve in their Champions League run while in the midst of a sputtering domestic campaign that saw their high profile new coach André Villas-Boas be shown the door back in March, forcing ‘AVB’s’ assistant, Roberto Di Matteo, to take over the reins of the club.
While the London-based outfit finished a disappointing sixth in the league table, they saw off the likes of Napoli, Benfica and reigning champs Barcelona on Di Matteo’s watch in the Champions League knockout phase, before beating Bayern at the Bundesliga giants’ home stadium in the final.
Atleti’s league form fared no better than their English counterparts’ and a coach sacking also took place in Madrid with Diego Simeone replacing Gregorio Manzano in December, but their performances in European competition en route to their eventual triumph in the Romanian capital were bafflingly remarkable.
Characteristically lacking determination against Spanish opposition week-after-week in Primera División action, particularly away from the Vicente Calderón, ‘El Cholo’s’ men steamrolled over everyone in their path in UEFA play.
Obviously, our Super Cup opponents are in a higher class than anyone we squared off against in the Europa League, prompting Simeone to advise his men they “must show that in one match it’s not who’s best on paper, it’s who is best on the day”.
“They are the favourites, we’re not going to lie, but we must be humble and competitive,” Simeone was quoted as saying by UEFA.com ahead of the bout.
It would come as somewhat of a surprise if Simeone makes any more than two changes to the squad he rolled-out in our home opener, with really the only questions being if Koke will once again start over Adrián, and who will be playing behind Colombian hitman Radamel Falcao and feeding ‘El Tigre’, whether Koke or Arda Turan.
Our back line, most likely composed of Juanfran, Miranda, Godín and Filipe, together with the probable help of Gabi and Mario Suárez, will be tasked with policing the pesky Mata, Hazard and Torres, who have guided Chelsea to a perfect three for three start to their present term in England.
“We shouldn’t think about winning, we should think about how to win,” El Cholo said.
“We know there’s an enormous prize at the end and what we want to delve into is how to achieve it. We’ve got a very competitive squad with Juanfran and Filipe Luis available again. We’ve had a good win and have a positive attitude towards tomorrow’s final.”
The Rojiblanco boss and club legend then sent chills down many a spine by coming out with one of his quickly-becoming-trademark, warrior-like rallying cries:
“Finals aren’t chosen; they are played, and they are won.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Silvio, ‘Cata’ Díaz, Godín, Juanfran, Miranda, Filipe Luis, Manquillo
Midfielders: Arda, ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez, Gabi, Emre, Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García
Forwards: Diego Costa, Adrián, Falcao