Chelsea has played in a lot of important matches this season. The Blues are experiencing one of the most turbulent seasons of any major club in Europe. They’ve sat anywhere from first to 10th in the table, they’ve changed managers once and even added £250 million worth of players heading into the year. Chelsea is a club with purpose and although rebuilds and projects take time, that is not a luxury the west Londoners have under Roman Abramovich. The Russian owner demands the absolute best of his team and the Champions League is the Blues’ playground this week.
Thomas Tuchel leads his men—who performed excellently in the group stage—into battle where they will face La Liga’s best team, Atletico Madrid. Luckily for the Blues, this is the best time to take on the Spanish side. Atletico is slumping right now, failing to win three of its last four matches. Despite a poor showing at St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday, Chelsea is actually in decent form at the moment. Regardless, none of that means this is a guarantee. Atletico is the hardest draw the Blues could’ve gotten. In order to become a European champion though, one has to defeat the best.
This will be a heavyweight clash between two European giants, separated by the slightest of margins. Here are three key clashes that could decide the first leg of the UCL tie:
1. Felipe and Stefan Savic vs. Timo Werner
I’m going to be honest, I was really looking forward to previewing Jose Gimenez versus Timo Werner in this section. However, that’s no longer possible as Gimenez was left out of Atletico’s Champions League roster before this clash. The Uruguayan came off with an injury in Los Colchoneros’ latest match against Levante. He had been working his way back into the squad after a muscle injury kept him out for the first part of this year. Seeing him work against the pacey Werner would’ve been heaven for football fans everywhere.
Felipe and the centerback who will likely start to his right, Stefan Savic, are perfectly capable of shutting down Chelsea’s versatile forward in the Uruguayan’s absence though. The two experienced defenders have both been crucial to helping Diego Simeone’s squad catapult to the top of La Liga this season. They aren’t as highly regarded as Gimenez, and they may not be as talented, but they are still incredible defenders. Simeone will lean on these two to shadow Werner all night long.
The Blues’ No. 11 has caused problems for a lot of teams this season across all competitions. He isn’t firing on all cylinders like last season for Leipzig, but make no mistake about it, the quality is still there. On his best days, Werner can out-run any defender in the world and he’s got an excellent eye for goal. The 24-year-old slumped for a span of 100-or-so days around the turn of the new year. However, an impressive performance against Newcastle has him back up to speed—no pun intended.
As previously noted, this match-up isn’t as eye-catching as Gimenez versus Werner, but it’ll still make for some stunning moments throughout the match. It’s hard to imagine the loser of this battle being on the winning side, which speaks to its importance, for sure.