Chelsea head into their round-of-16 tie against Atletico Madrid having finally tasted mortality under Thomas Tuchel.
After drawing his first game less than two days after taking charge, Tuchel took the Blues on a five-match winning run that saw them concede just once, an own goal, while scoring eight times. They hadn’t become the most exciting side in the world but there was clear progress.
The team had a set shape, no more of Frank Lampard’s tactical tombola. They had a clear identity and style of play with a heavy emphasis on possession, both offensively and defensively. They pushed up high, pressed and tried to use space intelligently.
Sure it wasn’t all clicking but they looked like they’d head into their clash with Atleti off the back of six straight victories. However, Southampton clearly didn’t read the script and Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men more than matched Tuchel’s boys and earned their 1-1 draw at the weekend.
Their great defensive run was punctured half an hour into the game with Takumi Minamino waltzing through the heart of their defence, sitting down two of their players (including goalkeeper Edouard Mendy) and slotting home. He became the first opposition player to score against a Chelsea defence under Tuchel and although the Blues did equalise through a second-half penalty, they had been wounded.
Atletico Madrid predicted XI
The draw not only damaged their attempts to solidify their top four place, but will have introduced new doubt ahead of the Atleti tie, a tie which when the draw was made looked absolutely terrifying as Diego Simeone’s men were runaway leaders atop La Liga.
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However things can change quickly in football, and mighty Atletico Madrid come into this Chelsea tie on a wobble of their own. They’ve won just once in their last four games and their recent double-header against Levante, including their much-touted game in-hand, yielded only a single point, and has seen their lead at the top cut to just three points (but with that game in-hand restored).
That’s not good news for Chelsea, however. Atleti were so far ahead in La Liga that their levels naturally dropped. The subsequent dip will have renewed the squad’s focus. Their loss to Levante at the weekend was just their fourth of the season and they will want to rebound against the next side they face, and the problem for Tuchel is: that side is Chelsea.
Chelsea predicted XI
Can Tuchel be confident? Well if you look at his team, they allow very few shots at goal. Just 34 in the Premier League since he took over — the fewest of any side in the division — resulting in four clean sheets.
So, in essence, Atletico Madrid are going to need to be very clinical if they want to get anything out of the Blues in midweek. But oh, here’s the problem. They are pretty clinical. In fact in La Liga so far this season Simeone’s men have scored an impressive 45 goals (second only to Barcelona) while taking 274 shots (fifth in the league). That means they have a shot conversion rate of 16.42% (a La Liga best).
For reference, Barcelona’s shot conversion is 13.44% and Real Madrid’s is 13.13%. And in the Premier League Manchester City have a conversion of 12.95% for the whole season. But just looking at the small spell that Tuchel has been in charge for Chelsea and the Blues have eight goals from 85 shots, which leaves them a measly 9.41%.
So Atleti are extremely clinical. Even if Chelsea barely give them a look at goal, it’s likely they will still score. But, this Chelsea side can also score themselves, though they are not clinical at all, and will need plenty of chances to do damage.
Well, and here’s the final twist; they just might get those chances.
Between the start of this season and January 1st, Atletico Madrid have played 14 games in La Liga, posting a mammoth 10 clean sheets and conceding just five goals. However since the turn of the year, Atleti have played nine games, kept one clean sheet and let in 11 goals.
Yes, in 2021 Atleti are letting in more than a goal a game. They’ve also faced 74 shots, decidedly middle of the pack (compared to Barcelona’s 45 and Real Sociedad’s league-best of 42) which means opponents are getting chances against them.
- Luis Suarez to score anytime – 11/8
- Both teams to score – 10/11
- Mason Mount to score – 5/1
- Luis Suarez 5+ total shots – 7/2
So while the Blues are right to fear Atleti’s clinical attack, in particular La Liga top scorer Luis Suarez, they will know that even a front-line as profligate as their own will have plenty of chances to open up Atleti’s unusually porous defence. Far from being a tight and tense defensive masterclass, current form puts this down to be a shootout where whoever makes the most of their chances wins.
That’s great for the viewers and it’s great for Chelsea who could literally put out two entirely different attacking units in the game, one in either half, and never be fielding a subpar player. Tuchel has kept his boys tightly compact so far but if he lets them off the leash against Atleti then we could genuinely get one of the games of the season.