Cristiano Ronaldo returns to the Spanish capital where he enjoyed extraordinary success with Atletico’s crosstown rivals, Real. But it may well be a new Portugal star in Joao Felix who makes an impact in the continental competition’s first round of fixtures.
Here, we look at the talking points ahead of this intriguing clash at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Wednesday:
Felix made just one appearance in last season’s Champions League before Benfica were relegated to the Europa League where he impressed.
So effectively, this is the Portuguese starlet’s first real campaign among the European elite and expectations couldn’t be higher.
As if a price tag of €126 million didn’t place enough pressure on the 19-year-old, his excellent start for Los Rojiblancos has only raised the bar. Fortunately, Felix appears to be one of those rare talents unfazed by the overwhelming scrutiny that can come from being branded as one of football’s budding superstars.
Kylian Mbappe, for example, thrived under the European floodlights with Monaco two years ago and hasn’t looked back since. More recently, Matthijs de Ligt enjoyed a sensational first Champions League campaign last term as the then Ajax captain inspired his side to the brink of the final.
Now it’s Felix’s turn to prove his prodigious talent on the grandest stage.
YET TO HIT THEIR STRIDE
Atletico will take comfort from sitting above La Liga rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona in the standings even at this early stage.
New signings Felix and Kieran Trippier in particular have hit the ground running, but an influx of new players was always going to bring a transitional period.
That was evident even before their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad over the weekend. Diego Simeone’s side had to come back from two-goals down to defeat Eibar 3-2 at home before the international break. This side is still a work in progress.
To a certain extent, the same can be said about Juventus. Maurizio Sarri’s specific 4-3-3 system requires a bedding in process and the Italian champions are coming off a disappointing result of their own after a goalless stalemate against Fiorentina.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo is yet to come into his own this season.
Compounding Juventus’ concerns is a growing injury list. Jan Oblak will most likely be the key absentee for Atletico after taking a boot to the face from Nacho Monreal on Saturday, but the Bianconeri will be missing a whole host of players.
Giorgio Chiellini is a long-term absentee but injuries to Douglas Costa, Miralem Pjanic and Danilo against Fiorentina have hit Sarri’s side hard. With Mattia De Sciglio already sidelined, Danilo’s absence may force Juan Cuadrado to operate as a makeshift right-back.
Should Pjanic also be unavailable for the encounter, Juventus will lose a key player in facilitating Sarri’s possession oriented style.
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