Chelsea gets its UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign back underway on Wednesday, having beaten Benfica 8-0 on aggregate in the last round back in December. The Blues’ opponent—by sheer coincidence—is the same as their male counterparts, Atletico Madrid. Although comfortably atop the Women’s Super League, Champions League success has so far alluded Chelsea; the Blues’ best performance coming two seasons ago when they lost to eventual champions Lyon in the semifinal.
To secure their place in this year’s quarterfinals Emma Hayes’ team will have to overcome Atletico, but there is a lot unknown about the Spanish foes. Who is their coach, what success have they had before and who do you need to watch out for? All of those questions are answered for you in The Pride of London‘s team profile:
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Founded in 2001, Atletico Madrid’s women’s side has established itself as one of the world’s top teams in recent years. Las Colchoneras currently sit third in the Spanish top flight and have already laid their hands on one piece of silverware this season in the form of the Spanish Super Cup. Atletico also has four league titles in its trophy cabinet, including three that came back-to-back-to-back starting with the 2016/17 season. It was denied the opportunity to defend its title for a fourth consecutive year when the season was ended prematurely with nine games to go due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
In the last round, Atletico recorded a whopping 9-2 aggregate score line over Servette FC Chenois. However, it has only gotten through this stage of the Champions League once before—last season no less—having made its tournament debut in 2015. With Thomas Tuchel’s men having claimed an unexpected win in their first leg, the pressure will be on the women to replicate that form.
Every fan of the women’s game now knows the success story of Emma Hayes, but who will be in the dugout opposite? The answer is Jose Luiz Sanchez Vera, and you may be forgiven for asking “who?” as he is a man with very little experience, especially compared to Hayes. Sanchez Vera first took charge of the first team in 2018, having worked as an analyst at the club prior. In his first season in charge, he led the Rojiblancas to a league title and domestic cup final. He then dramatically resigned early in the 2019/20 season before returning this January, immediately leading his side to a win over rivals Barcelona in the Super Cup semifinals.
It’s fair to say that Atletico has struggled for goals since the departure of club legend Sonia Bermudez in 2018, who has since retired. The gap was briefly filled by Jennifer Hermoso who played a single season for Madrid, scoring 24 goals, before departing for Barcelona. Hermoso’s goals were sorely missed last campaign. While she led the scoring charts with 23, Atletico’s top scorer came in the form of Angela Sosa, who had just nine when the season was brought to an end.
This season Atletico’s Brazilian forward, Ludmila, has stepped up so far, contributing 14 league goals. This makes her the league’s second-top scorer, tied with none other than Hermoso. In what is a career-best season for her, Ludmila was also the only Atletico player to make The Guardian’s Top 100 Female Footballers, which was announced in December. With a brace in Atletico’s most recent game, she will be confident as European football returns.
Fans of the English game are likely to remember the name Toni Duggan, who previously played for Everton and Manchester City. While the forward has been far from prolific for Atletico—just one league goal this season—she brings a wealth of experience, which could prove valuable. With the two blue northwest clubs, she scored over 30 goals, making her one of the WSL’s all-time top scorers. Duggan also has over 60 appearances for the Lionesses and earned a bronze medal at the 2015 World Cup.
Aleixandri has been the heart of the Atletico defence this season and has played more minutes than any other player in the squad. She was listed as one of UEFA’s ones to watch in 2020 and at just 20 years old, the future is very bright for the young centreback. While 2020 wasn’t a particularly bright year for anyone, Aleixandri made her first competitive start for Spain in November, a 10-0 win over Moldova. Previously, she helped the national side to bronze and silver medals at the respective under-16 and under-20 World Cups. With the likes of Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder, along with a rejuvenated Fran Kirby, Chelsea has arguably the best attack in the world and Aleixandri will require a spectacular performance to keep them at bay.
Who do you think advances into the quarterfinals? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!