Atlético has played 51 games this season which means injury and fatigue are necessary evils in the 2015-16 campaign. Nearly every player has sat out at least one game, but the latest knock may be the biggest for Atléti.
Diego Godin showed signs of first injuring his thigh against Barcelona and aggravated the injury more in Bilbao.
Arguably the best center back in the world, and at least the leader of a unit with the best defensive record in Europe must sit and watch as Atlético enters its biggest game yet. On Wednesday, Bayern Munich visits the Calderon, and a shutout would give Atléti a huge advantage heading into the second leg just 6 days later.
Without their top defender and vice captain, Jose Giménez and Lucas Hernandez, just 21 and 20 years old respectively, must lead the defense. Playing without Godin and leading the team will be a new role for both players. After being thrust into the fire many times in the last two years, they are up to the challenge.
Make no mistake, Lucas has been training for this moment. The 20 year-old centre back from Marseille joined Atlético in 2007 at the age of 11 and played his first game with the first team just last year.
Lucas’ first Champions League appearance came as an extra time substitution for Godin. He kept the clean sheet going long enough for Juanfran’s penalty to earn Atlético a spot among the final eight.
Injuries to José Giménez and Stefan Savic thrust the young player into action again against one of Atlético’s biggest rivals, Barcelona. Godin and Gabi were the stars of the defensive unit. However, Lucas game saving tackles, headed clearances, and man-marking of Messi, Rakitic and whoever else ventured into the left middle of the pitch was amazing.
Against a team that had gone 42 games undefeated before losing to Real Madrid the Saturday before, Lucas was part of a defense that shut down the Blaugrana attack. Despite conceding over three quarters of possession, Atlético held off 90 minutes of intense pressure for the 2-0 win.
This win came not despite Lucas’ inexperience and ability to still make rookie mistakes, but because of his cool head and ability to get the team out of dangerous situations. He will be able to draw on the Barcelona game as his defense becomes even more important in the semifinal against Bayern Munich.
Jose Giménez did not join Simeone´s organization until 2013, but El Cholo´s ruthless combination of zonal and man-marking is similar to the one ran in the Uruguay youth systems.
Giménez will likely have the job of deepest lying center back, meaning he will have to make game-saving tackles and clearances to keep his team in the game.
After first signing with Atléti three seasons ago, the young player became a fixture in the team midway through his second season. He was part of an outfit that allowed just 29 goals in La Liga, second only to Barcelona.
Despite the nine million euro summer signing of Stefan Savic, Giménez won back his starting spot this season. Whether partnered with Godin, Savic or Lucas, Giménez has been a key member of a backline that has allowed just 26 goals in 51 games.
Lucas is a fiery player with a lot of spirit, but he will look to the more experienced Giménez for leadership in the back against Bayern Munich.
Robert Lewandowski is third in the world with 46 goals in all competitions, and in many ways Bayern Munich may be the fiercest attack Atlético has faced this season.
Lucas and Giménez have spent the last few seasons learning from one of the best. In unfortunate circumstances, the teacher must step aside, but his students are more than up to the task.
A clean sheet is a must for Atlético on Wednesday, and two of the youngest center backs in the world will show why they are some of the best.