Atletico ready for counter-punching Chelsea

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LONDON: Atletico Madrid will expect another exhibition of ultra-disciplined counter-punching from Chelsea when the teams reconvene for the second leg of their Champions League semifinals at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Chelsea emerged from last week’s first leg with a 0-0 draw after a cautious display in which they enjoyed only 38 percent of possession and mustered five attempts at goal to Atletico’s 26.

Jose Mourinho’s side were at it again on Sunday, relaunching their Premier League title bid with a 2-0 success at leaders Liverpool after again surrendering possession and playing on the counter-attack.

Chelsea’s approach was criticized by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who dismissively described their tactics as “not difficult to coach,” but it was effective, and Atletico will be braced for more of the same.


Chelsea’s form has oscillated wildly in recent weeks, with performances such as the victory at Liverpool, a 6-0 demolition of Arsenal and the 2-0 defeat of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League quarter-final second leg interspersed with shock losses to Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland.

While Chelsea’s title destiny is not in their own hands, as they need both Liverpool and Manchester City to drop points, full-back Cesar Azpilicueta believes that Sunday’s win at Anfield was ideal preparation for Wednesday’s assignment.

Mourinho has declared that Chelsea do not have a chance of winning the league, but he stands on the brink of history in Europe.

Success in the May 24 final in Lisbon would make the 51-year-old Portuguese the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs, and few coaches thrive on the tactical duels in Europe’s elite competition like he does.

He will also be motivated by the desire to avenge his loss to Diego Simeone’s Atletico in last season’s Copa del Rey final, which brought his third and final season at Real Madrid to a trophy-less conclusion.

Atletico are unbeaten in this season’s Champions League, however, and having preserved their four-point lead in La Liga by winning 1-0 at Valencia on Sunday, they, too, have a trophy double in their sights.

Complicating matters for Chelsea is the fact that Mourinho must select from a depleted squad, with midfielders Frank Lampard and John Mikel Obi suspended and injury concerns affecting several key players.

Goalkeeper Petr Cech has been ruled out after dislocating his shoulder in the first leg, so Mark Schwarzer will continue to deputize, and striker Samuel Eto’o is doubtful with a knee injury.

Mourinho says that John Terry has “a chance” of playing after sustaining a foot injury at the Vicente Calderon, while Chelsea are hopeful that newly crowned Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Young Player of the Year Eden Hazard will be fit after a calf problem.

Simeone has played down the potential impact of Chelsea’s selection issues and is also unconvinced that his side’s run of nine straight league wins will prove a factor at Stamford Bridge.

Atletico will be without captain Gabi due to suspension, with former Chelsea midfielder Tiago Mendes expected to take his place, but Simeone otherwise has a full squad to choose from.

AFP

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