The UEFA Champions League has reached the business end of the competition. It's knockout football. There is no margin for error, there can be no more slip-ups. Ahead of the round of 16, we take a closer look at how Atletico Madrid made it through the group stage and assess their chances of marching into the quarter-finals.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Diego Simeone’s side came into the group stage aiming for their third final appearance in four years, and once again their success was built on the most resolute of defences anywhere in Europe. The Spanish side conceded just one goal in five matchdays as they safely navigated their way through to the knockout stage as group-winners..
MOST EXCITING MOMENT
After opening up the campaign with three consecutive 1-0 victories, including a famous defeat of Bayern Munich, Atleti hosted Russian side Rostov on Matchday 4 knowing all their early work could be undone with a single slip-up. They headed into stoppage time locked at 1-1 before a 93rd minute Antoine Griezmann strike brought the house down in the Spanish capital, sealing mathematical qualification with two matches to spare.
Topping the group was vital to Simeone’s side as they looked to avoid the big boys in the first knockout stage and that would mean getting the better of Bayern, the team Atleti had seen off in the semi-finals of last season’s competition. A single Yannick Carrasco goal gave them a vital 1-0 home victory on Matchday 2 as a run of five consecutive victories saw Simeone’s side win the group before having to make the trip to Germany on the final matchday of the group stage.
Having joined UCL top-scorers Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the podium for all of Europe’s major awards, Griezmann was always going to be key to Atleti’s chances and he has once again led from the front. The France international has been directly involved in nine of Atletico’s last 10 home Champions League goals (scored seven and two assists) and looks set to fire them past their second leg with Leverkusen.
CHANCES OF PROGRESSION
The ruthless counter-attacking style that twice propelled Atleti to UCL finals this decade was on show once more last month as they picked apart Leverkusen in the first leg, running out 4-2 winners in Germany. A two-goal lead, and two away goals, for a team that conceded just twice throughout the entire group stage should see them safely through to the quarter-finals..