Andy Brassell on Champions League: How will Atlético Madrid solve Chelsea puzzle?

Luis Suarez of Atlético Madrid
Atlético will hope more chances drop to Luis Suarez in London

With the Champions League second legs serving up some interesting ties, Andy Brassell takes a closer look at who will progress, as well as tipping an outright winner.

"The best start that Diego Simeone’s side have made to a game recently was in the Madrid derby, in which they dominated the first hour and really should have sealed the points in that time. A similarly aggressive approach is required here."

How do Atlético approach Chelsea challenge?

Rarely have a team that are still in a Champions League knockout tie received such a universal panning as Atlético Madrid did for their passive display in their first leg 'home' defeat to Chelsea in Bucharest. Confidence and energy were big issues in that, with COVID having affected the squad and even if they did drop two more points in the race for La Liga in Saturday's draw at Getafe, they played with more drive than they were doing around the time of the first meeting with Thomas Tuchel's team.

Atleti's main problem in that game was not creating clear chances, but who was on the end of them - Luis Suarez's one effort of note came back off the post with David Soria stranded, while Moussa Dembélé and João Félix saw other chances come and go. With the young Portuguese star, who has made a tentative recovery from his own bout of COVID, suspended for next weekend's game against Alavés, it wouldn't be a great surprise to see him start here.

The best start that Diego Simeone's side have made to a game recently was in the Madrid derby, in which they dominated the first hour and really should have sealed the points in that time. A similarly aggressive approach is required here, even if there is a risk that Chelsea will take advantage and catch the visitors on the counter, especially via Timo Werner's pace.

Back Chelsea and Atlético Madrid to draw at 3.3512/5

Can Atalanta take advantage of Real Madrid's home discomforts?

Ferland Mendy's excellent late winner for Real Madrid in the first leg in Bergamo was a cruel blow for Atalanta, who had fought hard in a very unfamiliar defend-first scenario. Losing Remo Freuler to a 17th-minute red card changed the game and possibly the tie, reducing Gian Piero Gasperini's relentlessly front-foot side to holding onto a share of the spoils - which they did surprisingly well until Mendy's spectacular intervention.

Without that goal, there could be an argument that Atalanta were favourites going into this second leg, with it being hard to imagine that so adventurous a team would not manage to breach El Real in the Spanish capital. Gasperini was forced to withdraw Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata prematurely due to a post-sending off tactical switch and injury respectively, and both will accordingly be very motivated to make an impact in the return, having contributed to Friday's 3-1 over Spezia which out them back in the top four.

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Atalanta are even better on the road, are Serie A's second top-scorers and the record of Zinedine Zidane's team is remarkably poor of late in Champions League knockout football, having exited at the last 16 stage in each of the two seasons since winning a third straight title in Kiev in 2018. At home, it's even worse. Real Madrid have lost three and drawn one of their last four Champions League knockout home legs. Karim Benzema is finding his best after injury, winning Saturday's home game with Elche single-handedly late on, and it looks as if Zidane will again rely on him to get the job done, with Eden Hazard out again.

Back Atalanta to beat Real Madrid at 3.55

Are Bayern favourites for the title all over again?

Of all the possibilities in this week's round of Champions League last 16 fixtures, nobody is expecting a wagging of the Lazio tail on their visit to Bavaria to be one. After their first progression beyond the initial group stage in 20 years, Simone Inzaghi's side were exposed from the off against Bayern Munich, both by the reigning title holders' excellence and by their greenness, as they committed a string of basic errors.

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The bad news for Lazio is that Bayern are in better nick now than they were three weeks ago. Hansi Flick was unable to name a full bench in Rome with injuries and COVID decimating his squad, though the excellent teenage midfielder Jamal Musiala grasped the opportunity to make his name in the competition.

Now, Bayern are looking back to their ominous best. They swept aside Werder Bremen on Saturday to extend their Bundesliga lead to four points (the 3-1 scoreline didn't do Flick's men full justice) and were able to name pretty much their strongest line-up, give or take David Alaba. Leroy Sané might come in to catch Lazio on the counter, if their plan is to have a go rather than to save face, as the Italians try to build on their win over Crotone on Friday and edge towards a return to this competition next season.

Back Bayern Munich to win the Champions League at 4.57/2

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