Atletico Madrid banking on form and format in hunt for European glory
The Champions League offers coronavirus-hit Atletico Madrid a very real opportunity, with both form and format in the 2014 and 2016 losing finalists' favour.
Atletico have not only knocked out the holders Liverpool at Anfield in March before the season was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they have also gone on an 11-game unbeaten streak since football returned in June.
During that run, the Spanish side have scored 20 goals and conceded six, which ensured a third-placed finish in La Liga.
"We did well and we know we're on a really good streak, but the Champions League is a different competition," said striker Diego Costa last week.
Atletico face RB Leipzig in the quarter-finals in Lisbon tomorrow morning (Singapore time) as one of the form teams still standing. But it is unknown how Diego Simeone's squad will be affected by the club's announcement last Sunday that Angel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko tested positive for Covid-19, with both players left at home.
A required second round of tests on Sunday meant preparations had to be tweaked, including delaying the squad's flight to Lisbon from Monday until Tuesday afternoon.
The one-legged knockout matches, however, could possibly work in Atletico's favour.
Traditionally viewed as underdogs, Atletico could benefit from playing in single matches, where game management is likely to be key and technical superiority has less time to be the decider than over the customary 180 minutes.
"It's important to accept the new format because once you accept it, you can adapt," said Atletico's Saul Niguez.
Standing in their way at the first hurdle are Leipzig, who are without striker Timo Werner, though Yussuf Poulsen said he is ready to step in.
After scoring 34 times last season, including four in the Champions League, Germany striker Werner quit Leipzig to sign for English Premier League side Chelsea in June.
"We can't completely replace Timo," said Poulsen, who has scored five goals, none of which were in Europe, this season.
"But the coach has a lot of ideas on how we can approach this and be at least as effective as we were in our previous Champions League games." - AFP