Chelsea’s performances over the last few months have been about as consistent as Jose Mourinho’s temperament. Poor displays and results against struggling clubs such as Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Sunderland have surely destroyed any prospect that the west London club had of securing the league title Performances in the second leg against PSG, away to Atletico and Liverpool have however revealed an altogether different mentality. If the Blues are to progress to their third Champions League final, Mourinho will need to ensure that his players are on their very best behaviour for the Atletico encounter.
That the 0-0 draw in Madrid has variously been described as both a bad and a good result for Simeone’s team, thereby illustrating just how delicately the tie is balanced. Whilst the Spanish team failed to take advantage of their home leg by not scoring, they also denied Chelsea an away goal – not that it seemed the Blues were that intent on trying to score one.
It would be a little ironic if this week’s game hinges on the absence of Chelsea’s stalwart ‘keeper, Petr Cech. After dislocating his shoulder early in the first leg, he seems destined to be replaced by veteran Aussie stopper Mark Schwarzer. Whilst even at the ripe old age of 41, Schwarzer still remains a competent performer, he clearly lacks in comparison to the estimable Cech. The comparison in the first leg between Cech and Chelsea’s on loan ‘keeper at Atletico Thibaut Courtois was curtailed by Cech’s injury, Chelsea will be hoping that, with only Hilario - who has not figured in first team action for three years – on the bench, Schwarzer makes it through the game.
The Blues will certainly be on a high following their successful raid on Anfield at the weekend, and Mourinho will surely be looking to strengthen his team with some of the players rested for that encounter. There are even rumours that John terry could drive his aging frame into one more battle against the injury odds. If fit, his presence would be a massive boost for the team, although also creating a quandary for Mourinho over whether to retain Ashley Cole, who has delivered two outstanding performances since being restored to the starting eleven. Adding in Eden Hazard would also be a bonus.
For Atletico, their dogged determination was amply illustrated by victory at the weekend over Valencia; much as with Chelsea, this is a team that knows how to get the job done on the biggest of stages. It’s an approach that has taken them to the very cusp of the La Liga title, and one that will offer great threat to the home team. Blues’ target, Diego Costa, has yet to feature prominently in the tie. He’s not normally this reticent, so expect something from him to influence the game. It would be a bittersweet moment if the Spain international demonstrated his potential worth to Chelsea by eliminating them from the competition.
It’s easy to predict a tight game, which means picking a winner is much more difficult. There’s every prospect of the outcome being in the balance going into the last few minutes, and one mistake, or flash of genius may make the difference. I never like predicting Chelsea victories, but I’m going to take them to go through by the most narrow of margins, possibly 1-0, or 2-1. Rest assured though, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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