Champions League Tips: Making the case for...Atlético Madrid
Jake Osgathorpe looks at Atlético Madrid, and how this season's team could finally win the club a Champions League.
For a team that has never won the Champions League trophy, I think its fair to say that Atlético Madrid have excellent pedigree in Europe's elite competition.
Between 2013 and 2017, city rivals Real Madrid were the bane of Atléti's life.
Real were the only team to knock Diego Simeone's side out of the Champions League for four straight campaigns, doing so twice in the Final of the competition.
Atlético were exceptionally competitive in both finals, and would have won the trophy in 2014 if it wasn't for a last gasp Sergio Ramos equaliser that then sapped the life out of Atléti ahead of extra time.
It was on penalties that Simeone's men lost the 2016 final after another 1-1 draw in normal time, and in 2017 they went into the second leg of their Semi Final against Real Madrid with a 2-1 aggregate lead only for the Champions League's all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo to bag a hat-trick at the Bernabeu.
They have been agonisingly close, and this season's competition represents another realistic opportunity to lift the most coveted trophy in European football, and let's not forget that they knocked out the holders and runaway winners of the Premier League, Liverpool, in the last round.
A turnaround in form
Prior to that 4-2 aggregate victory over Liverpool, which just so happened to be their final match before football was suspended, Atlético had won just two of their previous eight games in La Liga and sat sixth in the table.
That Champions League success looks to have revitalised them, and it certainly was a tie in which we saw the very best of the Atléti we have come to know and love - a stubborn defensive unit with a clinical edge.
Simeone's side finished the La Liga campaign with a flourish to secure third spot with relative ease, being unbeaten since the break, winning seven of their 11 league games.
The break did help them in terms of getting players back to full fitness, with Diego Costa and Joao Felix coming back into the fray, as has Kieran Trippier, who has had an impressive debut campaign.
It has taken a while for Diego Simeone to get this team to where he wants them, and it's fair to say he has done an exceptional job dealing with the exits of multiple key players and elder statesmen in the summer (Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernandez, Rodri, Felipe Luis, Diego Godin, Juanfran), all who knew Atléti's core values.
The replacements brought in have grown as the season has progressed, and now perform to required levels week in and week out, and what we are seeing is a fresher version of the same old Atlético.
Data says this is the best Atletico team since 2014
From a data and analytics perspective, this season's Atlético Madrid team are the best Infogol has seen, with the 2014/15 campaign the first season of data that we have available.
At Infogol we use expected goals (xG) and based on the xGF that Atlético have racked up in La Liga this season, the 19/20 team are the best attacking Atléti team over the past six seasons, averaging 1.79 xGF per game.
Defensively they have some work to do to catch the 15/16 team (0.86 xGA per game), but they still allowed an average of less than 1 xGA per game (0.98), which is a decent feat and something they failed to do in 17/18 and 18/19.
So despite finishing a distant third in La Liga, their performances have been better throughout this campaign than in both 17/18 and 18/19, when they finished runners-up.
The fact that they are creating more and better chances regularly, while maintaining their defensive solidity is a massive plus heading into the single leg knockout competition in this seasons Champions League.
Is there a team more suited to one-legged knockout ties?
Given the way that Atlético play, I can't think of a team better suited to a single leg tie.
The high-intensity, in your face approach makes life uncomfortable for any team, and couple that with the fact that they are one of the best organised sides in Europe, it will be difficult for any team to beat them in a one-off contest.
The draw has arguably played into their hands too.
Atletico face an RB Leipzig side without their talismanic striker Timo Werner in the Quarter Finals, before facing one of Paris St Germain or Atalanta in the Semi Finals - both of whom are extremely attack-minded sides.
If they get past RB Leipzig, they will be well suited to playing against either PSG or Atalanta, being able to play to their defensive and counter-attacking strengths.
What we are used to seeing from Atléti is footballing excellence from a defensive point of view, and usually even more entertaining than the actual game are Diego Simeone's touchline antics.
Watching El Cholo strut his stuff in and out of the technical area like a cocksure matador taunting a wounded bull is one of my favourite sights in European football, and expect the same even without the fans in the stadium for him to wind up.
He is their orchestrator and one of the main reasons they have to be seriously considered in this competition.
Diego Simeone's men are priced at 10.50 to win the competition, which I think could prove to be a very sensible bet given the capabilities of Atléti to come out on top in tight matches.
Personally, I prefer to back Los Colchoneros to reach the final at [3.4], mainly due to the strength of the teams on the other side of the draw, but one thing is for sure, Atlético won't go down without a fight.