Breaking Down Chelsea's Champions League Semi-Final Opponents Atletico Madrid

Tristan BarclayContributor IApril 11, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  Frank Lampard and John Terry of Chelsea celebrate victory during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain FC at Stamford Bridge on April 8, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Chelsea now know that all that stands between them and a second Champions League final in three years are La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho's men have avoided heavyweights Bayern Munich and Real Madrid and will visit the Vicente Calderon on April 22, with the return leg at Stamford Bridge taking place eight days later.

With a place in the final at stake, Chelsea cannot afford to put a foot wrong. Here we run the rule over their semi-final opponents, highlighting Atletico's danger men and pinpointing the weaknesses the Blues will hope to exploit.


Atletico's solid defence

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 09: Juanfran of Club Atletico de Madrid climbs above Lionel Messi of Barcelona  during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 9,
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The success of Atletico Madrid this season has been built upon solid defensive foundations. They have conceded just seven goals in this season's Champions League so far and even more remarkably have let in only 22 in La Liga. And that's in a league in which Barcelona and Real Madrid have scored 90 and 92 goals, respectively.

As Martin Lipton of the Mirror notes, Atletico's strength comes from the back. They are primarily a counter-attacking side, with the focus on a quick transition from defence to attack. Their philosophy is at odds with the prevailing style in Spanish domestic football—that of tiki-taka, focused on holding onto possession.

With Mourinho recently telling reporters that he lacks "real strikers," breaking down that red-and-white wall in front of the Atletico goal is not going to be an easy task.


Diego Costa leads the line

While Atletico's success starts at the back, they are blessed with perhaps the purest out-and-out striker currently operating in world football. Diego Costa has fired 32 goals in 35 matches this season per None of Chelsea's front men reach anything like those heights, so expect Costa to have some sort of say in the tie's proceedings.

Worryingly for Mourinho, Chelsea's defence lacks pace. With the ageing John Terry at its core, the defensive unit functions better when containing opponents tactically rather than relying on last-ditch tackles to save the day. As a counter-attacking side, however, Atletico will be looking to hit Chelsea with speed, spearheaded by the muscular Costa. If he can get in behind centre-halves Terry and Gary Cahill, it could be a long 180 minutes for the English duo.


Thibaut Courtois will play

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 09:  Thibaut Courtois of Club Atletico de Madrid collects the ball during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 9, 2014 in Madri
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

By a remarkable coincidence, the Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is currently on loan from Chelsea. While he has yet to make a first-team appearance for the Blues, the Belgian shot-stopper has been instrumental in leading Atletico to the summit of La Liga. 

It had been previously understood that under the terms of Courtois' loan to Atletico, the Rojiblancos would have to pay Chelsea a hefty fee to for the 21-year-old to face them in European competition. However, a UEFA ruling declared that agreement null and void, meaning Simeone is able to call on his young talisman, per BBC Sport.

The last meeting between Chelsea and Atletico saw the Rojiblancos demolish the Blues 4-1 in the UEFA Super Cup. The Stamford Bridge faithful will be hoping for a more favourable score later this month, but Diego Simeone's side certainly won't be a pushover.