Time after time this season, Atlético Madrid have put in historic performances and continued to prove people wrong. If they want to make this season truly memorable, that cannot stop now.
Desperate for success both domestically and in Europe, the red and whites play their first Champions League semi-final in forty years on Tuesday night, and will be welcoming home a familiar face against 2012 winners Chelsea.
Kick-off in the Vicente Calderón is set for 20:45 CET.
Fernando Torres spent 12 years at Atleti – 6 in the first team and 4 as captain – and tomorrow will return to where it all started for the first time as an opposition player since leaving for Liverpool in the summer of 2007.
Having lead us through one of the bleakest periods in our history and represented our club – his club – throughout his career, El Niño can expect a rousing reception in what will be a very special occasion for all concerned.
However, most importantly, both teams are just a couple of games away from the biggest stage in club football, in what many are anticipating to be a fascinating tie between two very similar styles.
Chelsea arrive on the back of a demoralising home defeat to the Premier League’s bottom side Sunderland, one that leaves them needing a miracle if they are to win the English title.
For manager José Mourinho, another figure whom Atleti fans know all too well, it was the first time a visiting side had won at Stamford Bridge in two separate spells in charge of the Blues, and means his focus will now most likely be all on the Champions League.
This is the seventh time in his career that the former Real Madrid manager has reached the last four of the competition, reaching three finals and winning two of them with Porto in 2003, and Inter in 2010.
As for the home side, only two members of the playing and coaching staff, Tiago and David Villa, have been here before, although Diego Simeone insists that his team’s relative lack of experience will not play against them.
“We focus on ourselves. Right now, preparation is all that counts,” he told press on Monday. “I expect a very tight match decided by details or the odd moment of technical quality.”
“We’re not the same [as Chelsea], but there are similarities. The team that works better collectively will manage to bring out these individual qualities and will be closest to the final.”
The Argentine coach also spoke about his former teammate Fernando Torres, less than a week after admitting he would welcome him into his squad should the chance ever arise.
“Fernando loves this club and the its people; he has good memories here and before the match, I think he will receive the ovation that he deserves. He will always be one of us at Atlético.”
Selection wise, Simeone has a full workforce available to him, which at this stage in the season is absolutely crucial.
On Sunday he was boosted by the return to full training of Arda Turan, although the Turk will most likely start from the bench given and build up fitness ahead of the home stretch.
The only other doubt was the much-debated issue of Thibaut Courtois and his eligibility for the two games, given that he is on loan from Chelsea. However, the 21 year-old wonder ‘keeper has been given the all clear to play.
Courtois kept goal the last time the team’s best back in August 2012, when a Radamel Falcao hat-trick set Atleti on their way to an unforgettable 4-1 win in the European Super Cup final. Mourinho, however, did not seem best pleased about the Belgian’s availability.
“I think it’s better not to discuss UEFA decisions, you just accept. If you don’t accept, you don’t comment.” he said. “Of course all players want to play in these games, everyone involved tomorrow will be extra motivated.”
The Portuguese tactician didn’t appear to have warmed towards Madrid press since departing the Bernabéu last year, deciding not to speak about Atlético’s qualities and avoiding answering questions in Spanish.
“I’ve spoken to my players about Atlético already, they are a team we respect and have studied and analysed a lot. You don’t get to a Champions League semi-final without being a good team and they are no exception.”
Defender David Luiz accompanied Mourinho to the press conference, and spoke about the match as well as his one-time compatriot Diego Costa, who has been linked in the UK with a move to Stamford Bridge.
“We are all enthusiastic, playing in a semi-final is important for us all, but Atlético have a great history and have won many titles. Our idea is to play well with intensity but football is always measured in results, we all want to win and get to the final.”
“Tomorrow is a match between the two teams, not Diego [Costa] and I,” he continued. “We have a plan for him but my boss didn’t speak about it so neither will I. He’s a good friend but I hope Chelsea win the match.”
Luiz could be in line to play at full-back, as first choice Branislav Ivanović is out through suspension. Ashley Cole is another option, although the England international has featured sparingly in recent months.
The Blues will be without Samuel Eto’o due to injury which could free up Torres to start, and are sweating on the fitness of danger man Eden Hazard. The 23 year-old has not trained since limping off in the last round at PSG, but is in contention having made the trip.
Also absent will be Nemanja Matić and Mohamed Salah, both cup-tied following January transfers.
Elsewhere in the Spanish capital on Wednesday night, Real Madrid take on Bayern Munich in the other semi-final before the return in Germany next Tuesday. The following day, Atleti travel to London for their second leg.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Aranzubia
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Alderweireld, Manquillo, Giménez, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Diego, Sosa
Forwards: Adrián, Villa, Diego Costa
Chelsea match selection
Goalkeepers: Cech, Schwarzer, Hilário
Defenders: Terry, David Luiz, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Cole, Kalas, Ake
Midfielders: Ramires, Lampard, Mikel, Oscar, Hazard, Willian, Van Ginkel
Forwards: Torres, Ba, Schürrle
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)