Craig Shakespeare called himself ‘The Lucky One’ in a recent press conference. He’s going to need to be if Leicester City are to emerge from this Champions League quarter-final first leg still in the tie. Atletico Madrid, runners-up twice in the past three seasons, are the overwhelming favourites to reach the last four.
Despite their domestic woes, Leicester are the last surviving English club in this season’s Champions League. Bruges, Copenhagen, Porto and Sevilla have all underestimated last season’s Premier League champions to their cost; Atletico won’t be so naïve, surely?
While there’s no doubt that the Foxes are the weakest team technically, they have rediscovered their spirit in since Shakespeare took over, making them formidable opponents in that respect.
Atletico possess the same belief but can they make their technical superiority tell in the first leg?
The weekend’s Madrid derby saw Atletico continue their excellent form in the Bernabeu and La Liga. Antoine Griezmann’s equaliser gave Simeone’s men a vital point as they seek to claim the last Spanish place in next season’s Champions League group stage.
That’s if they don’t win it this time around. Atletico’s achievement of reaching two of the last three finals is as incredible as the disappointment of losing to city rivals, Real Madrid, cuts deep. Simeone’s men would like nothing more than to right those wrongs and Leicester provide them with the perfect opportunity to reach the last four.
Gigi Buffon claimed playing the English champions was a ‘no-win’ tie for Juve. If the Italians won, they would get no praise while if they lost, the shame would be too much to bear. Atletico won’t worry about the former, that’s for sure. Progress is all that matters.
Simeone has an outstanding record in Europe. This is the fifteenth knockout tie he will oversee at Atletico; he’s lost just one of them and will prepare his team thoroughly. He is leaving nothing to chance:
“We know that the game will be very tough against a rival that is similar to us."
“We also know that we are not facing the same team that went into the knockout draw.”
With the quality they have, Atletico are expected to progress. Griezmann is one of Europe’s hottest properties while the impressive Jan Oblak has returned from injury.
Simeone has not yet reported any new injuries from Saturday’s draw with no word on Kevin Gameiro’s fitness for this match. Jose Maria Gimenez is the only Atletico player one booking away from suspension.
Sunday’s 2 – 4 reverse at Goodison Park was hardly the best preparation for this tie but Leicester are used to that. It was the seventh time this season they have lost in the match immediately prior to a Champions League tie, drawing and winning just once.
That unimpressive record means nothing given they are the sole English representatives left in the competition. Nor does it tell the story of Craig Shakespeare’s impact on the side.
Everton was the first time the last season’s Premier League champions had lost in the former Walsall midfielder’s reign. Prior to that, it was six consecutive wins. Wednesday night, as well as being a test technically, will tell the new manager a lot about the mental strength of his charges.
The improved form is not lost on Diego Simeone. The Argentinean commented at the weekend that “Leicester are not the same team which entered the knockout phase”.
As far as team news is concerned, there are no new injuries for Shakespeare to worry about. Robert Huth, Wilfred Ndidi, Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy are all one booking away from missing the second leg.
It’s another night where the Foxes are the underdogs and they will be hoping Kasper Schmeichel is in the same sparkling form as in Seville. Had it not been for him, Leicester would have been out of the competition at the end of the first ninety minutes of the last round.
They rode their luck; Shakespeare will be hoping they haven’t used it all up.
FORM (Last six games)
Atletico Madrid - WDWWWD
Leicester City - WWWWWL
- Leicester have scored at least 2 goals in each of their last seven matches.
- Atletico Madrid are unbeaten in their last 9 Champions League home matches.
- Leicester have lost on their three previous matches in Spain, two of them to Atletico.
- Atletico have never lost a home match against an English side (W5, D5).
- Atletico have kept a clean sheet in 8 of their last 9 Champions League home matches.
CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
HEAD TO HEAD
Last six meetings
Date Competition Result
16.09.1997 UEFA Cup Atletico Madrid 2-1 Leicester City
30.09.1997 UEFA Cup Leicester City 0-2 Atletico Madrid
25.10.1961 ECWC Leicester City 1-1 Atletico Madrid
15.11.1961 ECWC Atletico Madrid 2-0 Leicester City
It’s just as well football isn’t played on paper otherwise Leicester would be out of the Champions League already. Not that they are given much hope of avoiding defeat in the Vincent Calderon with the huge odds on an away win or a draw tempting.
The biggest issue facing Shakespeare is the number of key players facing suspension in the first leg. While he may privately expect to lose the first leg, the chances of Leicester progressing will be severely hampered if Huth or Vardy picks up a yellow card and a ban for the second leg.
Atletico’s defence may be tested by the England international’s pace but he can’t afford to be profligate in front of goal. Chances will be few and far between as the Foxes are likely to be under severe pressure all night from Diego Simeone’s talented side.
Expect Atletico to win this one by three or more goals.