“We know it’s a tough game and one that will be against a good team. But we are at home, and we have to know that it’s a must-win match.”
Those were the words of Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Real Madrid’s La Liga game against local rivals Atletico way back in 2010, and how fitting the two bitter sides will meet again in a massive clash of contrasting styles in the Champions League quarter-finals on April 22. First, though, the two teams meet in the first leg on April 14 at Atletico’s home, the Vicente Calderón Stadium. Real finally ended their 12-year wait for the completion of “La Décima” with a comprehensive victory of Diego Simeone’s men in last season’s Final, but Atletico ultimately pulled their weight by lifting the La Liga title in the same season. This time around, the two sides are doing battle yet again in the last eight, but what a difference a year (or so) can make.
This time, Real are sitting four points behind current league leaders Barcelona after their defeat in the latest chapter of the El Clasico, but they remain five points ahead of the reigning champions – and that will surely give them a psychological edge going into their continental clash. That said, Atletico will be doing their utmost to prove that they still have what it takes at the top, and with the recent return of cult hero Fernando Torres to the mix, on-loan from AC Milan, there is certainly an added dimension of threat to Atletico’s attack.
They won this season’s Group A with a comfortable three point margin ahead of two-time winners Juventus, losing only one of their six group games, but struggled to dispose of Leverkusen in the last 16, having to rely on a penalty victory after overturning a 1-0 deficit from German soil in the return fixture at the Vicente Calderón Stadium. This would imply that form on the European front would certainly seem to favour Real – historically the tournament’s most successful club – though a home defeat to another German side, Schalke, meant that Carlo Ancelotti’s men themselves only managed to scrape through by the skin of their teeth with a 5-4 aggregate win. They did win Group B comfortably, however, claiming a maximum 18 points from six games – two of which included last season’s Premier League runners-up, Liverpool.
Atletico are celebrating the recent news that boss Simeone has signed a new contract to keep him at the club for another five years, but whether this feelgood factor can be translated into performances on the pitch remains to be seen – Atletico are a strong, exciting and stubborn side, but Cristiano Ronaldo and co will be hoping to continue their title defence by getting off to a good start when the two sides meet in Europe’s top club competition.
Will Atletico oust Real from Europe’s elite competition?