Back at the end of September Atletico Madrid welcomed Chelsea to the Wanda Metropolitano and their biggest concern before the game seemed to be dealing with 4,000 away fans at their brand new stadium.
On Wednesday night the Romans are in town and the biggest fear is that this will be last Champions League game Diego Simeone’s coliseum, sees for about nine months. His Atletico gladiators are on their last legs in Europe and the Europa League is looming large.
‘If you ask me right now I’d say it’s a piece of s***,’ said midfielder Gabi when asked about that competition after Atletico drew 1-1 with Qarabag in the last round of matches.
Atletico Madrid are staring at elimination from the Champions League group stages
Atletico squad are put through their paces in training ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Roma
They won the Europa League in 2010 and ’12 – and that is where they’re heading at the moment
He corrected himself adding: ‘It’s been good to me in the past so if we have to play it we will try to win it.’ But his gut reaction had been the more honest response.
Atletico won the Europa League in 2010 and 2012 but they never want to see inside the Thursday-fest again. They are bigger than that now. Or at least that is they way they felt going into that first ever Champions League game in the Wanda against Chelsea.
They have not lost since that night but they are now on nine draws for the season. Antoine Griezmann has trimmed his bright blond bob and no longer looks like Alice lost in Wonderland but Atletico’s most talented player does still look lost, and such are the limited options up front that Diego Simeone will turn to Fernando Torres to get his team the goals that will get them out of their current predicament.
They need to do something they have not done all season and win in the Champions League. Yannick Carrasco is set to start wide left with Felipe Luis behind him and that should give Simeone’s team more quality and penetration down that flank.
Antoine Griezmann has been a shadow of the player that took Europe by storm last season
The France forward has changes his hairstyle and will hope that mirrors his luck in front of goal
Saul will start on the right with Atletico Madrid supporters willing him to find another one of his wonder goals from somewhere. And Thomas Partey will partner Koke. By Simeone’s standards it’s an attacking line-up. Needs must. Atletico have only scored two goals so far in this competition and one of those was a penalty.
One of the nosiest sets of supporters in Europe will be behind them but the mood will be set to some extent by events in Baku 5,000 miles away. If Qarabag take something from their game against Chelsea then Atletico will have their fate back in their own hands – beat Roma and Chelsea in their last fixture and they go through.
A further problem for Simeone is that no only are his team not playing well but Roma are. They have won their last six games with former Manchester City players Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko both in excellent form for them.
‘The nice thing is that unexpected things sometimes happen,’ said Simeone on the eve of the game.
Diego Simeone believes his side can halt their poor form and rekindle their group stage hopes
He will be in his element pre-match reminding the players of their responsibilities and trying to stoke up the passions that will help see them over the line. Bjorn Kuipers is the match referee and it was the Dutchman who officiated the 2014 Champions League final against Madrid in Lisbon when Atletico had the trophy snatched from their hands by an injury time Sergio Ramos equaliser.
But they have shown under Simeone that they are also capable of heroic storylines. Griezmann will at least have support on Wednesday night. His brother Theo has taken to social media recently to criticise Atletico’s team-play. It might not help him in the dressing room but Griezmann maybe happy to have someone pointing it out.
‘The bookmakers don’t give you a chance,’ one reporter asked Simeone on Tuesday. ‘I don’t evaluate those games,’ said Simeone. ‘It’s not a world I understand.’
He surely comprehends what it means to be the outsider against the favourite however. It has not been the case for Atletico for a few years now, at least not in the group stage but they are the unfancied team once more – and he will be hoping that it brings out the best in them.