After a stunning and disappointing loss at the weekend, Chelsea travel to the sunny Spanish capital to take on La Liga front runners Atlético de Madrid in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League semi-final match-up.
Chelsea had taken a 1-0 lead just 12 minutes into the match against Sunderland Sunday afternoon after a brilliant volley from Samuel Eto’o found the back of the net, however Sunderland would later equalize through Connor Wickham just 6 minutes later. A relatively controversial penalty was awarded by referee Mike Dean in the 82nd minute, and Liverpool loanee and former Chelsea player Fabio Borini slotted it home to not only dash Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s unbeaten record at Stamford Bridge, but also all but assured the Barclay’s Premier League title will not come to SW6 either. Chelsea however do still have quite a nice consolation prize available, should they win or at least score enough goals to advance past Atleti and reach the Champions League Final in Lisbon.
Meanwhile in Spain, Atlético won their match against Elche CF 2-0 and moved 4 points clear of Barcelona and 6 points clear of crosstown rivals Real Madrid with 4 games left (although Real have a match in hand) including a potential title decider the final week of the season against Barcelona.
While Chelsea have had difficulty getting goals from their forwards this season, Atléti have had no such trouble. Former Brazilian and current Spanish international Diego Costa has banged in 27 goals for Los Rojiblancos while making himself the worlds hottest transfer prospect, but both sides rank have the best defensive records in their domestic leagues. Chelsea’s on loan goalkeeper Thibault Courtois has played a large part in that, and he has been cleared to play for Atlético in the semifinal despite some controversy over his loan contract.
Current Chelsea striker Fernando Torres will most likely get the start at the Vicente Calderón against his boyhood club, the team who brought him to international prominence. While at the Calderon he earned the nickname “El Niño “, and is still a revered figure at the club. He will get a very warm welcome against his former club, and I personally hope playing in Madrid will help him regain his old spark for a match and score us a crucial away goal.
Chelsea may be without star forward Eden Hazard, as the Belgian has missed out on each match and most training sessions since the win against Paris St-Germain 2 weeks ago. He was on the plane from Gatwick to Madrid, but if Hazard is unable to play we will most likely see Andre Schurrle start again following being rested against Sunderland. The goalscorer at the weekend, Samuel Eto’o, did not make the trip to Spain due to irritation to a previous knee injury. Branislav Ivanovic also misses out, he earned his 3rd yellow card of the tournament against PSG and has been suspended for this first leg. Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah are both ineligible for selection due to their involvement in the group stages for their previous clubs (SL Benefica and FC Basel) prior to the winter transfer window. With Ivanovic out, we will most likely see the return of Ashley Cole to the Chelsea lineup at Left back, with Spanish fullback César Azpilicueta moving to his former position of right back. Marco Van Ginkel made the trip to Madrid as well, he hasn’t featured in the Chelsea first team since undergoing ACL surgery in September.
Predicted Starting XI:
I’m hoping for a much better away result than the first leg of the quarterfinals, I see Chelsea and Madrid being pretty evenly matched defensively, but I worry about the offensive prowess of Diego Costa. I see the match ending in either a 1-1 draw, or 2-1 to Atletico Madrid.