COMMENT: Atletico's defence at home a worry for Foxes

Andy West 12/04/2017
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Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Not a bad collection of teams. In fact, nobody other than those four heavyweights has lifted the Champions League trophy since Internazionale in 2010.

But staying on the subject of that competition, do you know what else they have in common?

The eyebrow-raising answer is that they have all failed to score in a knockout tie at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium in the last three years.

Indeed, it is more than three years since ANY visiting player has succeeded in netting a single goal at Atletico’s atmospheric home in a European knockout tie, a sequence which dates back eight-and-a-half games and encompasses nearly 800 minutes of action.

The last visiting player to score at the Vicente Calderon in a knockout tie was Kaka, who netted for AC Milan in the 27th minute of their last sixteen meeting on 11 March 2014 (but even that didn’t count for much, with Atletico going on to win 5-1 on aggregate).

Since then, Atletico’s results in home knockout clashes have been as follows: 1-0 vs Barcelona; 0-0 vs Chelsea; 1-0 vs Bayer Leverkusen; 0-0 vs Real Madrid; 0-0 vs PSV; 2-0 vs Barcelona; 1-0 vs Bayern Munich; 0-0 vs Bayer Leverkusen.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski – not to mention Demba Ba, Luuk de Jong and Javier Hernandez – have all attempted to breach Atletico’s defences on big European nights in the last few years, but none have succeeded.

Another way of stating Atletico’s defensive stinginess is by pointing to a different statistic: they have only conceded one solitary goal, bizarrely scored by Rostov in this season’s group phase, in any of their last nine Champions League home games.

So whichever way you look at the task facing Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and co on Wednesday, it’s pretty clear that somehow managing to register an all-important away goal will be exceptionally difficult for the Foxes.

The key factor behind Atletico’s defensive brilliance is the discipline and organisation implemented by manager Diego Simeone and his assistant, German ‘Mono’ Burgos.

That coaching duo are the best around at utilising their time on the training ground to ensure their team defends truly as a whole team, with all 11 players moving in perfect synchronicity to close down space and deny their opponents opportunities to work the ball into dangerous areas.

But they also have outstanding individuals at their disposal, starting at the back where Jan Oblak now surely deserves to be regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the world.

The Slovenian arrived from Benfica in the summer of 2014 following Thibaut Courtois’ departure to Chelsea and was initially slow to settle, making a poor Champions League debut in a 3-2 loss at Olympiacos and initially losing the starting spot to Miguel Angel Moya.

But a hamstring injury to Moya towards the end of that campaign allowed Oblak to have a second opportunity, and he has not looked back since.

Last season he played every minute of the La Liga campaign and equalled an all-time record by conceding just 18 goals in 38 games, as well as those Champions League clean sheets to help Atletico into the final.

And this year he has recovered from injury to arguably reach even greater heights, showing his quality with a number of excellent saves in Saturday’s Madrid derby draw at the Bernabeu.

The brilliance of Oblak, who is still only 24, significantly enhances Atletico’s chances of advancing to the semi-finals and beyond yet again, because away goals are simply so, so important in two-legged ties.

In fact, last season only one team succeeded in progressing to the next stage without scoring an away goal – eventual champions Real Madrid, who did it twice by mounting a big comeback against Wolfsburg after a 2-0 loss in Germany, and then overcame Manchester City 1-0 on aggregate with a narrow home win.

In all the other 12 ties, however, it was necessary to score an away goal to advance, and Leicester’s chances of continuing their remarkable fairy-tale story will be severely hampered if they don’t score on Wednesday.

The question is…how?

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In an exclusive interview with CNN Sport’s Christina MacFarlane, AS Monaco’s vice-president Vadim Vasilyev outlined how the club has remodelled itself to reach the Champions League Quarter-Finals and the top of Ligue 1.

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