It was a dispiriting weekend for Chelsea. A sorely disappointing defeat at home to Sunderland, during which coach Rui Faria was dismissed from the touchline, incandescent with rage and hauled away down the tunnel by colleagues, was rapidly followed by a sneering, sour grapes statement by manager Jose Mourinho. The perfect preparation for a Champions League semi-final it was not. Regardless however, the Blues travel to the Vicente Calderon to take on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
The encounter with Diego Simeone’s team has a number of fault lines running through it. Firstly, there is the kerfuffle over whether or not Thibaud Courtois, the Chelsea goalkeeper on loan to Simeone’s club, should be allowed to play or not. It seems that any agreement between the clubs on the matter has been declared null and void by UEFA, so although they will probably feel aggrieved that a freely-entered into agreement, when the loan deal was decided has been put aside, there seems little Chelsea can do about it. Courtois will inevitably play, and Chelsea will have to face one of the world’s best goalkeepers, who ironically is an employee of theirs.
The other issue concerns the opposite end of the Atletico formation, wherein Diego costa, long-courted by Chelsea is likely to lead the line for the Spanish club. Rumours have abounded that player, and clubs, are very close to a deal to transfer his services – and goals – to west London for next season. So as well as a current employee, a potential one is facing the Blues as well.
Chelsea on the other hand have problems with their own custodian, as Petr Cech missed the Sunderland debacle with a virus. Mourinho will be hoping for a full and rapid recovery ahead of the game however, as 41 years of age, and a season and half of virtual first team inactivity have clearly had a detrimental effect on the talent of back-up ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer. There is a strong possibility however that Cech will return, whilst Chelsea’s problems at the sharp end of their team remain a long term problem.
Despite Samuel Eto’o netting Chelsea’s goal against Sunderland, the veteran striker is probably merely the least bad option of the trio of front men available to Mourinho. Whilst the rumbustious Demba Ba remains a battering ram option, Fernando Torres – who may be decamping back to Atletico as part of any Diego Costa deal – remains a pale shadow of the man once feared by defences across Europe. Indeed, it would not be the biggest surprise in the world should Mourinho again opt for the industrious and willing Schurrle as a makeshift frontman in a line up designed to hold and frustrate, rather than dominate and win.
With Atletico very much on an upswing, and Chelsea’s fortunes looking the other way, the Spainsh side have to be strong favourites to win the game, and may even be in a position to take the tie beyond the London club’s reach. It may take another slice of tactical genius by Mourinho to keep his club alive for the second leg. A single goal defeat, preferably with an away goal bagged, would probably be a reasonable aspiration for the blues. They may do well to achieve that however.
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