Atletico Madrid may be in uncharted territory as they prepare for their first UEFA Champions League semi-final in 40 years, but they will meet a familiar face in Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho when the Londoners travel to the Spanish capital on Tuesday.
Mourinho won his first eight meetings against Atletico in a three-year spell in charge of Real Madrid. Then last May Los Rojiblancos exacted revenge by beating Real for the first time in 14 years in the Portuguese’s last competitive game in charge of Los Blancos to win the Copa del Rey last May.
Atletico have built on that success and are on course for the greatest season in their history as they are just three games away from winning both La Liga for the first time in 18 years and a first ever Champions League. Both sides’ success this season has been built upon a solid defensive base and Atletico captain Gabi is not expecting a goal-fest over the two legs.
“Without a doubt Mourinho’s teams are very well prepared tactically and they are going to come here to play their usual game, to not leave any space at the back, to play on the wings and in the air, it’s similar to what we do here,” he said on Sunday. “It’s going to be a very competitive game of two teams with very similar styles. We are very excited about the game and we have to play well at home because that could determine the second leg.
“It has been a hard season but the most important thing is what is coming up. The team has been capable of making it into the situation we are in now but we cannot relax, we haven’t achieved anything yet. We are in a great situation and on Tuesday we want to take a big step towards the final, but we have to do the talking on the pitch.”
Atletico will be boosted by the news that on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois will be available to play against his parent club as UEFA declared a clause in his contract forcing Atletico to pay an extra fee to field him as ineligible. The Belgian international has becomes a key part of the Atletico side over the past three seasons and Gabi is confident that despite his tender age the 21-year-old has the temperament to handle the situation without any problems.
“He was a bit uncertain at first waiting to see what would happen, but he’s always been certain that he wants to play and he was sure that they would resolve it.
“He’s very excited, this opportunity doesn’t come along very often, if you are in a team that gets to the semi-finals and possibly the final it is difficult for that to happen again and it’s a great opportunity for him. He’s very focused and even though he is very young, he has the capacity to not let that affect him.”
Simeone’s men were handed a further boost on Sunday as midfielder Arda Turan returned to training meaning the Argentine coach now has a full-fit squad to choose from.