The first leg didn’t go exactly as planned last week when we could only draw 1-1 at home to an Atletico team who played almost all of the game with 10 men. A 1-0 win wouldn’t have been the worst result, but we really should have taken at least a two or three goal lead into tonight’s second leg. The late goal we conceded has left us teetering on the brink of defeat and we have to go to Madrid and get a result.
As it stands Atletico are on the way to the final with that away goal in the bank and we will be out if we don’t score tonight. We have to avoid defeat as well as scoring to either qualify for the final or at least bring the game into extra time. That’s a hard task for a team with our away record this season, but that record has been in the Premier League and we have actually traveled very well in the Europa League.
We went to AC Milan in the last 16 knowing they hadn’t conceded a goal in a long time, but we ended that run on the night and we have to end a similar run for Atletico tonight. They haven’t conceded a home goal since January and we will need to take a step up to be the first team to score away to them in nearly four months. While it is a huge task I certainly don’t think it’s one that is completely beyond this team.
I expect a very similar team to the first leg with the possible inclusion of Henrikh Mkhitaryan who returned from injury on Sunday as a team of fringe players and youngsters were a little unlucky to lose 2-1 at United. Both Hector Bellerin and Granit Xhaka played in that game, but the rest of the expected team for tonight sat it out with the exception of Nacho Monreal and Danny Welbeck who both came off the bench. David Ospina picked up a knock in that game and it could mean we see Petr Cech get the nod tonight. As I’ve said previously I don’t see too much between them and we really need a new keeper for next season.
If Mkhitaryan comes in (and I really hope he does) it will be for either Welbeck or Jack Wilshere and I suspect it could be the later. Welbeck offers more of a goal threat and we have to score tonight or we are out. Mkhitaryan can take some of the pressure off Mesut Ozil with his ability to commit players and that might just free up Ozil to create chances that others can hopefully take.
We targeted them on crosses last week and that’s where our goal came from. They have conceded a fair proportion of their goals in the Europa League from crosses and I imagine we will try to prod that weakness again tonight. Hopefully we will be a little better at taking the chances that come our way.
I could take a long time listing the statistics that are against us tonight between our away record, their home record and our recent trips to Spain, but there’s no real point in doing so. We need the players to treat this game as a one off or a Cup Final I suppose and go for the result they need as if their lives depended on it. If they’re going to bid farewell to the manager with a trophy they have to get the result required tonight or it’s finished.
No doubt Atletico will target our defensive frailties and we have to stand strong against the likes of Antonio Griezmann and Diego Costa. On the face of it that’s a huge task, but we would have succeeded in that task last week except for one communal slip. If the players concentrate from first to last minute and believe in themselves anything is possible.
We have players who can hurt any team even though it seems like it’s us fans they have become fond of hurting in recent seasons and this season in particular. As a fan you need belief in your team though and I always approach a game genuinely believing we can win it. Tonight is no different, but let’s just hope that belief isn’t shattered.
That’s it for today.
See you tomorrow.