Antoine Griezmann vs David Luiz and other key battles as Atletico Madrid host Chelsea

Andy West 26/09/2017
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Antonio Conte will take his Chelsea side to Atletico Madrid as the pair clash for their second Champions League fixture in Group C.

Here we look at three key battles ahead of the game.

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN VS DAVID LUIZ

There’s no doubting the identity of Atletico’s key player: French frontman Antoine Griezmann, who has overcome a slow start to the season to score in his last two games.

With his combination of movement, speed, commitment to hard work and finishing, Griezmann is the complete striker and a nightmare for any opponent.

The Chelsea defender best physically equipped to handle him is David Luiz, whose assured physicality is enough to subdue any striker.

But whether Luiz has the mental capacity to manage Griezmann’s constant threat is another matter – he certainly can’t afford one of his infamous lapses in concentration on Wednesday night.

JAN OBLAK VS THIBAUT COURTOIS

OK, this is not a head-to-head battle as such as they will be at opposite ends of the pitch, but in a game which is likely to be low-scoring the heroics or (extremely unlikely but always possible) mistakes of these two world-class goalkeepers could be decisive.

Courtois, of course, was Oblak’s predecessor between the posts for Atletico, and there’s a healthy but inconclusive debate among the club’s fans over which of them deserves to be remembered as the club’s greatest ever goalkeeper.

Indeed, it’s easy to mount an argument that they are currently the best two keepers in the world – and they’ll look to prove that point in this game.

KOKE VS CESC FABREGAS

In many ways Spanish international teammates Koke and Fabregas are the heartbeat of their team’s attacking play, albeit they perform in subtly different ways.

While Koke is hard-working, physical and does a lot of his best work from wide positions, Fabregas loves to get regular contact with the ball in the centre of the park, dictating the play in a manner that Koke rarely does.

The former Barcelona player possesses the ability to deliver a killer final ball that Koke generally lacks, but the defensive aspect of his game can sometimes be lacking. Against Atletico, that could be fatal.

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Pontus Wernbloom vs Henrikh Mkhitaryan and other key battles as Man United face CSKA Moscow

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Manchester United will look to stretch their unbeaten record against CSKA Moscow this week, having won two and drawn two in their previous four meetings against Wednesday night’s opposition.

The two sides are level on points atop Group A, having won their opening fixtures, and with Benfica playing Basel in the other group game, the clash offers a good opportunity for either side to move one step closer towards qualifying for the knockout stage.

Here’s a look at three key battles which will shape the game’s outcome.

ALEKSEI BEREZUTSKI VS ROMELU LUKAKU

The 35-year-old Aleksei Berezutski, who plays alongside his identical twin brother Vasili in a three-man backline, remains one of CSKA’s most accomplished defenders, and will provide a tough challenge for United striker Romelu Lukaku.

Berezutski is strong in the air and an adept tackler, both of which will be vital traits against the Belgian who has made a phenomenal start to his United career, scoring eight times in eight games.

United manager Jose Mourinho’s preference for tight defensive displays in European away fixtures means Lukaku’s duel with Berezutski will be crucial to the final result, as the Belgian could be the difference between a 0-0 draw and a narrow win – although Mourinho would no doubt be happy with the former, or any result that isn’t a loss.

PONTUS WERNBLOOM VS HENRIKH MKHITARYAN

The 31-year-old Wernbloom will have his hands full with Manchester United’s central playmaker, especially given Mkhitaryan’s excellent start to the season and his displays in Europe last year.

Wernbloom has made a name for himself as a fearless defensive midfielder, with his hard tackling and general playing style endearing him to fans.

Those attributes will make for an intriguing battle with Mkhitaryan, whose trickery, pace, and elusiveness set up the perfect contrast to his midfield counterpart.

VITINHO VS ERIC BAILLY

Eric Bailly is coming off an excellent defensive display for United at the weekend, starring alongside colleague Phil Jones to help his side weather the storm at Southampton. It was a performance that added to his growing reputation as one of the Premier League’s toughest defenders, and yet again showed how the Ivorian has by and large been United’s best defender since he joined the side last summer.

In-form Brazilian striker Vitinho has been one of the bright sparks of CSKA’s season, tallying four goals and three assists so far. He scored on Matchday 1 against Benfica to earn the Russian side a crucial away win, and he’ll be relied upon again on Wednesday.

Bailly, who will be making his Champions League debut, will fancy his chances against Vitinho in an aerial battle, but once the ball is on the ground the duel should be a little more even. The CSKA striker’s dribbling, passing, and penchant for long-range shots will keep Bailly on his toes throughout.

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Who is Antoine Griezmann's temporary strike partner and other talking points as Atletico Madrid host Chelsea

Andy West 26/09/2017
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Antonio Conte will take his Chelsea side to Atletico Madrid as the pair clash for their second Champions League fixture in Group C.

Here we look at three key talking points ahead of the game.

WILL CHELSEA STRIKE AT THE METROPOLITANO?

Considering their consistently awesome defensive record, it’s tempting to conclude that Atletico Madrid will never concede a goal at their new Metropolitano Stadium.

The first two visitors have come away empty-handed, as Malaga and Sevilla were beaten 1-0 and 2-0 respectively with Antoine Griezmann getting on target in both games.

Chelsea, of course, are a different kettle of fish and with a glittering array of expensive attacking talent within their ranks, the London club will strongly fancy their chances of becoming the first visiting scorers at Atletico’s new home.

Given Atletico’s almost tragic troubles in this competition against Real Madrid, however, surely the best bet is that former Los Blancos star Alvaro Morata will be the man to get his name on the scoresheet as he returns to his home city. And that, you can be sure, would go down particularly badly with the locals…

Alvaro Morata

Alvaro Morata

WHO IS GRIEZMANN’S TEMPORARY PARTNER?

In January, Atletico fans will be able to enjoy the sight of returning hero Diego Costa lining up with shining star Griezmann in attack, and the potential of their silk and steel partnership will make Diego Simeone’s men a force to be very much feared in the latter stages of the competition.

For now, however, Costa will be watching from the sidelines as the club complete their FIFA transfer ban, and Simeone must decide who will be his first-choice back-up to support the undroppable Griezmann up front.

He’s certainly not short of options, with veteran Fernando Torres joined by pacy Frenchman Kevin Gameiro and a pair of elusive Argentines, Luciano Vietto and Angel Correa, and Simeone’s team selection will probably tell us who, in his mind, is his preferred choice right now.

So far this season, none of those players have really made the position their own, although Correa has been the most convincing claimant by registering three goals in his four league appearances – Torres, Gameiro and Vietto, by contrast, are all waiting to break their duck for the campaign.

Antoine Griezmann (L), Angel Correa (R).

Antoine Griezmann (L), Angel Correa (R).

GABI NO LONGER JOINING THE PARTEY?

A key component of Atletico’s success in the last few years has been understated central midfielder Gabi, who is extremely unlucky never to have earned international recognition with Spain after captaining Los Rojiblancos to one La Liga title and two Champions League finals.

Now, though, Gabi is 34 years old and it appears his influence is gradually starting to wane. He has played fewer minutes so far this season than four other midfielders, with Thomas Partey being promoted to team up with Koke, Saul and Yannick Carrasco in the centre of the field.

Ghana international Partey has taken a while to reach maturity since he progressed through the club’s youth system. After spending full seasons on loan with Mallorca and then Almeria, he returned to Atletico and made a handful of appearances in the last couple of years.

This term, however, he has taken a big step forward with starts in five of Atletico’s six games, playing the full 90 minutes in the opening group game at Roma. If he is selected ahead of Gabi on Wednesday, it could mark a symbolic passing of the torch.

Gabi

Gabi

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