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Graham Hunter on how Atletico Madrid are like Chelsea of old, but why Jose Mourinho can take advantage of small margins

La Liga expert and all-round good guy Graham Hunter on how the slimmest margins in the Atletico Madrid v Chelsea game, will decide which side makes the Champions League final in Lisbon

by Graham Hunter | April 22, 2014

Atlético Madrid vs Chelsea, Champions League semi-final (Tuesday, April 22, 19.45)

The neatest way to summarize what Jose Mourinho and Co face in Madrid tonight is that Chelsea are about to endure the most unsettling prospect of facing ‘themselves’.

Atletico are Chelsea of April 2005. Thibaut Courtois is Petr Cech, Diego Costa is Didier Drogba and above all Diego Simeone is Mourinho at his very best.

Little wonder under-pressure Jose wants to repatriate Courtois next season and is well on his way to signing Diego Costa.

diego simeone, atletico madrid manager

Similarities with Chelsea 2005

Back in 2005 the Blues were horribly difficult to defeat and reached this semi-final stage by defeating both Porto and FC Barcelona – just as Atleti have done this season. But the greater similarities are in attitude, system, work ethic, all-for-one-and-one-for-all spirit.

Simeone is a street-tough man who isn’t afraid to admit he relies on his understanding of the Zodiac and horoscopes as part of his man-management techniques

‘Sagittarians need a lot of affection, but if you’re born under Scorpio you respond better to a bit of tough love. My star sign is Taurus – we can be a bit difficult to deal with. We’ll give you our heart and soul but only if you treat us well. If you try to force us to do something against our will, watch out.’

Tease him if you dare

Just like Mourinho used to have the ultimate capacity to achieve, Simeone has brought all his players, reserves too, to the boil at the same time – and kept them simmering all season. It’s one hell of a trick.

Champions League semi finals, Chelsea v Atletico via Graphic News

Simeone’s promise to his president

You could compare him to both Pep Guardiola and Mourinho for his absolute intensity – every minute of every working day. And in his spare time. He’ll often go to the cinema, catch the first 15 minutes but then become utterly overtaken by some new thought on training, or a rival, or the last match and need to walk out so that he can make notes.

Friends and family have tired of asking him whether he enjoyed a television programme, a movie or a concert. Usually he’ll have taken in about five per cent of what they have – because his restless football mind won’t let him alone.

Three trophies ago he took over with Atletico sliding down the table and able to peer over their shoulder at the relegation zone. He told his new president:

‘I’m going to make it unpleasant to play us, teams are going to suffer’.

He did. And they have

To this day his motto is: ‘If your car isn’t quite top notch then you have to find a way to puncture the other guy’s tyres so that you can keep up with him.’

John Terry and Frank Lampard 14/5/2006 00179078

What Terry and Lampard think…

When I spoke to John Terry and Frank Lampard (above in 2006) at Cobham last week and asked them about this tie each man pointed out that the general impression of Chelsea having had an extremely favourable draw in avoiding Real Madrid and Bayern didn’t tally with their views of the Spanish league leaders.

Each of them watches Spanish football and while each is respectful of the team it’s also Diego Simeone’s electric buzz of energy, animation and activity on the touchline which has impressed them.

My words, not theirs, but I think they see a version of Mourinho – just younger and as hungry as the Portuguese was back then.

For those who are trying to size up this match it’s important to point out that often Atletico’s margins are the smallest. Lots of 1-0 and 2-1 wins. An indication of rigour, but also an indication that if Chelsea can ‘do a job’ on them then taking a draw or a one-goal win back to London isn’t utterly impossible.

Diego Costa

More to Atleti than Costa

However, there’s a great deal to say that’s pro-Atletico. In all 23 Liga and Champions League games at the Calderon this season they’ve conceded just 10 times.

Notwithstanding the eye-catching nature of Courtois’ and Costa’s work this is a team – genuinely a terrific blend of youth, experience, pace, positional play, mental toughness. Will to win.

  • For example, although the headline figure is that Costa (above), potentially Spain’s starting World Cup No9, has 35 goals this season it’s important to note than in Atletico’s last 12 games (since their last defeat) there have been nine different scorers – Costa, Villa, Koke, Raúl Garcia, Gabi, Diego, Godín, Arda Turan and Miranda.
  • In those same games there have been nine individual goal-assist producers – Villa, Filipe Luis, Juanfran, Gabi, Raúl Garcia, Diego Arda, Adrian and Miranda.

Try picking a first goalscorer out of that lot. Atletico have Spain’s best set-play record offensively – they practice remorselessly and very often get it right.

That, allied to the fact that Atleti are noticeably good in the air in both attacking and defensive situations would suggest that conceding free kicks in the last third must be ‘verboten’ for Chelsea.

A little note for those who like in-play, should Atleti get a penalty and Costa is on the field he is likely to continue taking them – despite the fact that he’s missed four of eight this season.

Little details like that could well decide the whole tie and progress to Lisbon.

It’s old Chelsea against new Chelsea. May the better Chelsea win.

Champions League

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