Hosting Atletico Madrid is Europe’s most daunting task, but Leicester have nothing to fear
Leicester City must prevail where Barcelona and Bayern Munich have faltered when facing Atletico Madrid tonight, but when has history ever weighed the Foxes down?
There are few tasks more daunting in football than attempting to overhaul a deficit against Atletico Madrid. Against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, we should add.
The Argentine’s side are fiendishly difficult to break down, and little changes when they travel away from the Vicente Calderon.
It has been the foundation for their success in Spain and in Europe. It hasn’t delivered a myriad of trophies, but scaling the mountain to climb alongside Barcelona and Real Madrid is a feat in itself.
And while La Liga and Europa League glory has been sampled under Simeone, the Champions League is what Los Rojiblancos truly crave.
Three games stand between Atletico and a third Champions League final in five years – and the first obstacle comes on Tuesday night at the King Power, as they look to preserve a 1-0 lead against Premier League champions (yes, we can still use this for one more month) Leicester City.
Shakespeare vs SimeoneReuters
The Foxes must do what Barcelona and Bayern Munich have failed to do in recent years. They must outfox Simeone’s stubborn Atleti.
One stat stands out when attempting to understand the task that faces Leicester: Atletico have never lost a Champions League away match under Simeone by more than one goal.
In their four Champions League seasons under Simeone’s guidance, Atletico have lost five times as the away team – winning 11 and drawing five.
The first of those five losses came at Olympiacos in 2013-14. A 3-2 defeat did little to trouble Atletico as they finished top of the group, but after navigating past Bayer Leverkusen on penalties in the last 16, it was time for Real Madrid – again.
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (R) is challenged by Atletico Madrid's Juanfran TorresReuters
Having painfully lost to their city rivals in the 2014 final, a goalless draw at home left Atletico needing a win at the Bernabeu to advance to the semis.
It was going to plan for Atletico, who had shut Real out for 178 minutes over the two legs – a remarkable achievement given that Real had scored 21 goals in eight UCL games so far that season – but their dreams were dashed with two minutes of normal time to go, with Javier Hernandez the hero for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
The 2015-16 campaign saw Atletico tasked with overcoming holders Barcelona in the quarter-final, but they did just that, losing 2-1 at the Nou Camp before prevailing 2-0 at home to set up a semi against Bayern Munich.
Another European giant, but this time it was Atletico to play at home first, and they denied free-scoring Bayern an away goal and took a 1-0 lead to Germany. Once again, losing 2-1 proved no issue as the away-goals rule meant it would be a Madrid derby in the final for a second time in three years.
Saul gave Atletico the lead against Bayern Munich last seasonReuters
But this isn’t the time or the article to discuss Atletico’s woes against their greatest foes – it’s simply to serve as a reminder to Leicester fans that this is the ultimate European test. As if they needed reminding.
And of course, Leicester do not have to win by two clear goals. 1-0 would take it to extra time, and then who knows? But the fear would be if Atletico steal an away goal, as they have done against Bayern and Barca in the past.
2-1, 3-2 or a draw of any number would be enough for Atletico. So you’re switching attention to 2-0 or 3-1 if you’re a Leicester fan - Atletico just don’t ship in four. Watching how Leicester set up will be fascinating as there’s no need to go out all guns blazing.
This match has the makings of a Simeone special. This is their forte. History tells us they will prevail.
However, when have Leicester ever taken any notice of history? When have they ever looked phased? They should look out of place in Europe. But they don’t. They should have fallen apart at the Vicente Calderon. But they didn’t. They shouldn’t be in the Champions League. But they are.
Leicester are writing their own story and who would rule out Tuesday April 18, 2017 being another night to remember.