Atleti won a group that included Bayern Munich, but that conveys an optimism not apparent when you look at the fuller picture. This fall, they lost four in a run of seven La Liga matches, and they’ve never quite realized the steel that led them to the Champions League final last year. After six years in Madrid, you wonder if the constant passion from Diego Simeone has lost its ability to drive a squad that may have reached its apex last year. Couple that with Antoine Griezmann likely leaving, and it’s an uncertain time as Atleti hope to have a memorable final season in the Vicente Calderon.
Bayer meanwhile, appear to be on an upward trajectory after a disappointing first half of the Bundesliga campaign where they won only one of their last six matches before the winter break. They sit in eighth, with only seven points between them and third place Dortmund. Chicharito’s return to form has ignited their recent optimism, having scored five in their last three matches.
It’s a matchup that on historic precedent, appears one-sided, but with two squads headed in opposite directions, could end up giving us one of the surprises of the knockout stages.
Bayer are a mainstay in the top four of the Bundesliga, but have not made a deep run into the Champions League since they were runners-up in 2002. While a return to those heights is too ambitious for this squad, they are still dangerous enough to be playing late into the spring. Led by a rejuvenated Chicharito, who scored five goals in six Champions League appearances last year, and backed by a defense who only allowed 40 goals in the Bundesliga last season, this is a squad with the ability to take down some giants.
Last season’s Champions League proved to be heartbreak again for Atletico as they were runners-up to rivals Real Madrid for the second time in three years. The momentum should continue for Atleti, however, as manager Diego Simeone has stayed put. Also committing themselves to the Vicente Calderon is star French forward Antoine Greizmann, who will be joined in attack with the formidable options of Fernando Torres, Kevin Gamiero, Saul, Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan, among others. Combine that with a stern defense and Atletico Madrid are no longer relative surprise finalists, but one of the favorites. We’ll be treated to a matchup against Bayern, but with PSV Eindhoven and Rostov rounding out the group, Atleti should make it out comfortably.
The former Manchester United striker's career was revived upon his arrival at Bayer, where he scored 26 goals in his first season.
A lethal free kick specialist, just watch the highlight video above.
Was named player of the tournament at Euro 2016, scoring six goals and adding two assists in seven games.
The rock at the heart of Atleti's defense has played over 180 matches for Los Rojiblancos.