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Know your enemy: Rival Q&A with Into the Calderon

Real Betis Balompie v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

In two days, Juventus’ Champions League campaign will start back up again. It’s been a fixture that we’ve been looking forward to and have circled on our calendars ever since Juve drew Atlético Madrid back in December.

From that point up until now, both teams have seen plenty happen — both good and bad, some positive and some negative. How much is bad and how much is good, you can probably judge that on your own.

But, no matter what kind of form we feel like Juventus and Atlético Madrid are currently in, two of Europes best teams will be meeting in the first of their two-legged Round of 16 tie this Wednesday night in the Spanish capital. There is the potential for this matchup to be really, really good. Or, based on the fact that both teams have the reputation of being strong defensively despite their numerous offensive playmakers, a complete grinder over the course of 180 minutes with the end result being an incredibly low aggregate scoreline.

So, because our range of Atlético Madrid viewing over since the Round of 16 draw probably goes from very little to close to the complete opposite of that, I decided to go to somebody who’s probably seen every minute of Atléti’s season to date. Say hello to Jeremy Beren from SB Nation’s Atlético Madrid blog Into the Calderon.

As is usually the case when we go to the outside for help, there’s two parts to the equation. You can read the other half of the Juventus-Atléti Q&A between BWRAO and Into the Calderon RIGHT HERE.

So, let’s get to it. Away we go...

BWRAO: Greetings, Jeremy! I’ll save the introductory wise cracks for Roma and Inter, so I’ll throw a fastball right down the middle to start things off: Atlético Madrid entered the weekend on the back of back-to-back losses and have suddenly fallen off the pace a little bit behind Barcelona and, now, Real Madrid. So what’s been happening lately?

ITC: Injuries, injuries and more injuries. I think the tally now is over 40 injuries to Atlético Madrid this season, which is an unfathomable number considering this team’s reputation, and it’s one that has caused Diego Simeone a number of headaches even as the results have been largely consistent this season — Atlético only fell to third in LaLiga by losing to that other Madrid team last weekend.

That being said, there have been other issues spanning most of the season. Atleti have sturggled to score — Griezmann has nearly six times as many goals in LaLiga as the next closest teammate. Simeone’s football is as...pragmatic, shall we say, as ever, prioritizing points over aesthetics to a more extreme degree. It’s tough to watch some weeks, but this how it is and under Simeone, Atleti average a trophy a season, so we live with it.

BWRAO: A lot like Juventus, Atleti’s start to the 2019 calendar year hasn’t been all that great. Is this just a blip on the radar or something that you’re seriously worried about?

ITC: A mixture of both? The injuries have played a large role in this, but Atlético have failed to convince a number of times this season despite the talent at their disposal. Simeone criticism has probably never been higher, though he’s gone and signed a three-year contract extension anyway. (He’s still the best man for the job, in my opinion.) That being said, Atlético’s single best performance this season — against Dortmund at home — came in the Champions League back in November and they are knockout competition demons. Atleti’s best football comes here since fewer teams outside of Spain can or want to match their industrious style, one that doesn’t require much of the ball.

BWRAO: Y’all know Cristiano Ronaldo is the main player to watch out for. Who should Juve’s defense, that’s still a little banged up, be the most worried about outside of Antoine Griezmann?

ITC: I usually give Ángel Correa as an answer to this question because of his pace, trickery and versatility to play as a winger or as a Griezmann complement. But I would watch out for Diego Costa and Thomas Lemar. The former is coming off foot surgery but is finally fit to play again, and he can be mighty bothersome if his attitude and force are back to normal. Lemar, meanwhile, has had a so-so first season in Madrid, but the winger is very clever on the ball, presses relentlessly and has a wide passing range.

BWRAO: A lot of us around BWRAO still have loving feelings for Alvaro Morata. Do you think he will be a factor — as a starter or off the bench — as he gets set to face his former team once again?

ITC: I am fully on board the “Álvaro stunting on all the big teams he once played for” train. He should have had a goal in the derby against Real Madrid but VAR ruled it offside (a dubious decision in my book) and it would have been a perfect start to his life on the red and white side of the capital. He will factor into this tie one way or another — likely as a starter since Costa is not yet fully fit. He’s looked good so far despite not scoring goals — his aerial presence is one this team needs along its front line.

BWRAO: Atleti allowed 22 league goals all of last season. That total is already up to 17 this season. What gives?

ITC: All four of Atlético’s senior center backs — Godín, Giménez, Lucas and Savić — have gone down with injuries this season, and only Godín and Giménez are healthy at the moment. Sadly, Jan Oblak can’t save everything, great as he is.

BWRAO: You asked me for my prediction, now I will ask you for your prediction. Who you got in the first leg?

ITC: Atlético, 1-0. Don’t let me down, fellas.