Atlético Madrid travel to Germany to take on Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday evening, in the first knock-out stage of a competition they came so close to winning last season.
Kick-off in the last-16 tie at the BayArena in Leverkusen is set for 20:45 CET.
After the disappointing defeat to Celta put a downer on their good run of form, Atleti burst into life again at the weekend in the first half against Almería. A 3-0 victory will restore the team’s confidence and take the game to their Bundesliga opposition.
It’s the first time Atleti will play Leverkusen since the two sides met in the group stages of the 2010/11 Europa League. Both home and away fixtures finished 1-1 – but Atleti are a much different team now.
Los Rojiblancos have gone from strength to strength in both the league and in Europe, culminating in the heartbreak of last season. This pain will only drive the team on, according to returning legend Fernando Torres.
“Losing a final is really tough, maybe even more so if it’s the Champions League, and definitely even more so because of the way it happened,” Torres said in a lengthy interview with Marca. “My teammates want to avenge what happened in Lisbon and there’s only one way, which is by getting there again.”
“People are convinced that we can reach the final once more. That makes you see what the team’s mentality is all about.”
It remains to be seen whether this will be the game Fernando Torres makes his Champions League debut for Atlético. Having played in the competition for Liverpool, and winning it for Chelsea, Torres has not featured in Europe’s premier tournament for Atlético.
“Playing in the Champions League is another bonus about being back here, as I’ve never played in it for Atlético, I know the competition well. It’s where the best players compete and it’s where you need to be”, he said.
He will face a tough task displacing Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann from the starting line-up, after the deadly duo put in another excellent performance against Almería to combine for two goals.
Koke is still out injured following the hamstring stain he picked up against Real Madrid. There are also doubts surrounding the fitness of Arda Turan, who didn’t train with the rest of the squad on Monday.
Apart from that, Cholo has a full squad to choose from, with the whole squad making the trip.
“It’s a huge match for us,” said Diego Simeone at his pre-match press conference, knowing that the tactics Atleti are about to face mirror the system he himself has worked so hard to install.
“We want to keep control of the game and also keep possession of the ball. But we have to be careful. If we’re in possession, Leverkusen will apply a lot of pressure to get the ball back.”
“We’re in very good shape and are really enthusiastic. But we have to be very focused – this is always very important for our performance. If we do that, we get a good result.”
Atlético are aiming to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the second successive season. Last season, Simeone’s men progressed after beating Milan 5-1 on aggregate.
Leverkusen on the other hand haven’t got past this stage on any of the last three attempts. They lost 6-1 on aggregate to PSG last season, while two seasons before they lost 10-2 to Barcelona overall.
Atlético Madrid squad list:
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak and David Gil
Defenders: Siqueira, Ansaldi, Miranda, Juanfran, Godín, Giménez, Gámez and Lucas
Midfielders: Gabi, Tiago, Arda, Cani, Saúl, Mario Suárez and Raúl García
Forwards: Mandzukic , Raúl Jiménez, Griezmann and Fernando Torres.
Form guide (last six in the league)
Bayer Leverkusen – DDWLLD
Atlético – WWWWLW