KARACHI: As Jose Mourinho prepares for a record eighth Champions League semi-final, he will undoubtedly be wary of his opponents. And rightly so.
The last time Mourinho faced Atletico Madrid was in his last game in charge of Real Madrid, when he lost in the Copa del Ray final. The last time Chelsea played Atletico, they fared no better; losing 4-1 in the European Super Cup thanks to a Radamel Falcao hat-trick.
Chelsea travel to the Vicente Calderon in the first leg and with perhaps the best tactician at the helm, the advantage of hosting the second leg may be all they need to edge out what should be a well-contested tie.
However, Mourinho will need no reminder of the way his last team, Real, was knocked out in a semi and he would not have failed to see the uncanny resemblance between Atletico and the Borussia Dortmund team that made its way to the final last year.
Both teams have a passionate boss, both put immense pressure on their opponents through relentless pressing and both play on the counter. It was in the first leg of last year’s semi-final that Mourinho’s tactics came undone, losing 4-1 to a Robert Lewandowski inspired Dortmund.
The tactician will know full well that Atletico’s Diego Costa has the ability to do to Chelsea what Lewandowski did to Madrid and would surely learn from last year’s mistake.
On the other hand, Diego Simeone’s team made the mighty Barcelona look almost mediocre in the quarters and will be relishing the fixture. However, this is the first real European challenge that his team have come up against.
Having gone through a relatively easy group, Atletico faced an AC Milan team that languishes in seventh place in Serie A and may not even finish in the top half of the table. While Barcelona provided a much sterner challenge, the Spanish affair meant that Atletico knew their opponents.
Now, they must step into uncharted territories and welcome Chelsea. However, Simeone will take heart from the fact that no English team has ever won at the Vicente Calderon. For his part, Simeone remains tight-lipped, “we want to take a big step towards the final, but we have to do the talking on the pitch.”
‘The man of the moment’
While Costa and Koke have been rightly praised for the way they have played this season, perhaps the man responsible for Atletico’s stellar performances is the one who guards the posts. In an ironic twist, Atletico’s best player, Thibaut Courtois, belongs to Chelsea.
Uefa were quick to clear the air on the matter and announce that Courtois will be allowed to play for Atletico, hence nipping the matter in the bud.
Courtois has made it very clear that he will either be playing for Chelsea or Atletico next season and perhaps the victor of the tie may earn the world’s most promising goal keeper as spoils. Petr Cech, however, will be doubly motivated to show Mourinho that it would be wiser to stick with him and a good performance may tempt Mourinho to broker some sort of Costa-Courtois swap deal.
Wherever Atletico’s striker and keeper end up next season, on Tuesday they line up in Atletico colours and just like every other player to do so, they would give it their all. Chelsea have a task on their hand.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2014.
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