Atletico Madrid’s impressive victory over Barcelona in the Champions League last eight has brought the less-successful Madrid club to within touching distance of their first European Cup triumph – but can Los Rojiblancos overcome the odds and end up celebrating on May 24 in Lisbon?
Atletico’s rise, both domestically in La Liga and in Europe, has been one of the stories of the season so far as Diego Simeone has moulded a side not only capable of competing with Barca and city rivals Real Madrid, but getting the better of them.
Their run to the last four in Europe is no fluke. Atletico have been a revelation since August and could yet complete an unexpected and glorious European Cup and La Liga double. Even the most ardent Atletico fan would be hard-pushed to claim it will happen – such is the quality elsewhere left in the Champions League – but the momentum they have at the minute means they will take some stopping.
Atletico are a cohesive, hard-working outfit that smacks of solidity all the way through from on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois up to star striker Diego Costa. They may have fewer individual stars than the other three sides left in the competition but, as a team, they are well organised, disciplined and, as underdogs, a real threat to the rest because, unlike PSG, Bayern and Real, the pressure is not on them to deliver the trophy.
They deserved their two-leg success over what appears to be a fading Barcelona side and should have won the second game at a rocking Vicente Calderon by more than the eventual 1-0 scoreline that sealed an overall 2-1 win. The way they have managed to maintain an unlikely league challenge and progress so far in Europe is mightily impressive and even though taking on Chelsea in the semi-final will be another tough test, they have nothing to lose now and can approach the games with confidence and in a relaxed mood, knowing they are not being given much of a chance of going all the way by the bookies, certainly when looking at bet365’s overall odds for the competition anyway.
Their success this season has been based largely on what some perceive to be an outdated 4-4-2 formation with Diego Godin, Joao Miranda, Juanfran and Filipe offering defensive stability and an attacking threat when needed. Then, in midfield, Gabi and Tiago Mendes do the dirty work, leaving the highly-rated Koke – who scored the decisive goal against Barca – to offer the creative edge and support Costa and David Villa, who is proving he can still cut it with the best on his day despite his serious injury problems of the last few years.
The worry for some Atleti fans is that their squad will be pilfered in the summer transfer window with Costa attracting £45m glances from the likes of Chelsea and PSG, and Koke and Courtois tipped for the Premier League.
Whatever happens in the next month or so, this has been a season to remember for the nine-times Spanish champions, though, and if they can add the European Cup to that list of honours then Simeone’s players will rightly earn legendary status.