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Champions League Preview: Chelsea (Atletico Madrid, Group C)

Campbell Finlayson continues our Champions League analysis as he speaks with Chelsea fan @lnmh95 of @talkchelsea about their chances and the prospect of facing Atletico Madrid. 

As a Chelsea fan, what are your initial thoughts on the draw?

Well, I feel like it’s a tough group but, as the champions of England, we should be fighting for top spot. Atleti are always very strong in the Champions League and Roma are no pushovers either, so I expect Chelsea will be made to work for a place in the Last 16. With
Qarabag in the group, you’d expect the other three clubs to be getting at least six points on the table before we’ve even started thinking about other fixtures, so it’ll be a three-way battle.

How long have you been a Chelsea fan and what made you start supporting them?

I’ve been a Chelsea fan for as long as I can remember really. I grew up watching the Mourinho side of 2004-5, so as a kid it was fantastic watching Chelsea winning title after title. My father is a Chelsea supporter and loves his football, so I think that’s how I first got
into the sport. But the likes of Terry, Lampard, and Drogba all influenced my interest in football. Now, I can’t get enough of it!

Is there any past history between Chelsea and Atlético?

Well, the last time we faced Atleti they knocked us out of the semi-finals, so I’m sure everyone at the club will be desperate to get one over on Atleti this time round. We’ve drawn each other in the group stages in previous years, but this was at a time when Atleti weren’t as strong as they are now. I expect both matches – home and away- to be very tight affairs. Off the pitch, the two clubs have done business with each other once or twice as we all know.

When Atletico visit Stamford Bridge, what kind of atmosphere can they expect?

I feel like Stamford Bridge comes alive on Champions League nights. As a club, we’ve always had a fixation on the competition since Roman Ambramovich took over the reins in 2003, so I think the fans always give 100% when they hear the music come over the speakers before a European game. As a stadium, Stamford Bridge isn’t massive and the crowd are right on top of the players. For this reason, I think that visiting teams will find the Bridge quite an intimidating setting. I hope this works out in our favour!

Have Chelsea done much transfer business this summer?

The club have signed a few big name players this summer with Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Antonio Rudiger all arriving at Stamford Bridge. Although the club has done well to secure these players, we’re desperately lacking in squad depth and I think the manager still needs three or four more players to bolster his squad. In order to be competitive on four fronts, you need a large squad of quality players and, at the moment, we’re having to draft in members of our U21 side just to get a match-day squad. That says a lot about how we’ve done in the transfer window this season and what still needs doing.

How is Antonio Conte likely to set the team up tactically and if all players are fit, what would the starting XI be?

Well, Antonio Conte has always used three at the back since he’s been at Chelsea and I don’t expect him to change much this season in Europe, especially when it has been so effective for us. If everyone is fit and available to play, I would expect the Italian coach to play a 3-4-3 formation, with Fabregas and Kante in midfield. Some people would expect Bakayoko to start but, against Atleti, I think we’re going to need a bit of creative genius in the centre of the park if Chelsea want to find a way past that stubborn defence. Cesc Fabregas will be entrusted to dictate the pace of the game and will look to pick out Morata with those killer passes that he’s known for. However, Conte has used two up top when he coached Juventus in Europe, so I wouldn’t rule out a tactical swap of formation ahead of a crunch group match.

Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso, Hazard, Willian, Morata

Who is your main player that Atlético will need to stop if they’re going to get a result against Chelsea?

If Atleti want to beat Chelsea at home, they need to stop Hazard. Hazard is the one Chelsea player who can create something out of nothing. He’s a constant pain for defenders because of his trickery and unpredictability. However, against Atletico Madrid, I feel like Alvaro Morata will really step up his game given that he’s a Real Madrid boy. If I were Diego Simeone, I would try to upset Morata and ruffle his feathers a little in the opening ten minutes of the match – just to let him know that he’s not going to run the show.

What are Chelsea’s expectations in the Champions League this season?

Well, I think that every fan is expecting us to get out of the group and just give the competition a real good go. It was great winning the league title last season but, everyone loves to do well in the Champions League because you can prove that you’re one of the biggest teams in Europe, not only in England. Realistically, I would expect us to reach the quarter finals of the competition. I don’t think our squad is strong enough to go any further this year unless we strengthen a few areas, mainly our midfield.

Tell us where you think the 4 sides will finish in the group?

As a Chelsea fan I’d like to put us as favourites to win the group but, I think we may find it difficult adjusting back to the rigours of European football with such a small squad. As a result, I’d predict Atletico Madrid to top the group, Chelsea to finish in second, with Roma in third and Qarabag in fourth. Having said this, I expect Roma to finish one or two points off of the qualifying positions. It’s going to be close for sure!

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