Leicester City Football Club is in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. That’s a real thing. I feel like that’s said a lot with regards to the Foxes these days but I digress.
We took some time to get to know Leicester’s opponent in the final 8, Atlético Madrid and naturally we reached out to Into The Calderon for some pointers. Read up on Los Colchoneros below with our little question and answer.
Fosse Posse: Talk to us about Atlético’s season…what has it been like and are they a team that realistically can win the Champions League?
Into The Calderon: This has been a pretty weird season at Atlético Madrid. Diego Simeone's side stuttered out of the gates in LaLiga with two draws to newly-promoted sides - possibly due to still feeling the hangover from losing May's Champions League final.
The longest lull took place between November and January, when Antoine Griezmann went 800-plus minutes without a league goal and the team slumped into sixth place. However, Atlético were on top of things in the Champions League, notching three consecutive 1-0 wins to kick off the group stage and topping Group D over Bayern Munich, PSV and Rostov. The league form started to turn around last month, and Atleti now look as dangerous as ever; last weekend's win over Sevilla probably makes the red and whites the odds-on favorites for third place.
Atlético have played in two of the past three Champions League finals and lost both due to the tiniest of details - refereeing errors and a miracle goal sent the first final to extra time, and two penalties off woodwork decided the second final. Atleti have to be considered strong contenders to win the Champions League at last, even without being regarded as the top team in the field. But the Foxes will be a tough out, and they are the focus right now.
FP: What is the view of Leicester from a La Liga squad like Atlético who has won the title recently? Is there a level of respect there? Surprise?
ITC: Since the draw, the message coming from the players and staff has been one of uniform respect for Leicester City and that team's achievements over the past year. On the day of the draw, center back Diego Godín said Atlético know how dangerous Leicester are as a compact, physical, counterattacking side, and he spoke about how the English champions showed their strength by eliminating a very good Sevilla outfit. Simeone refused to say it's an easy draw. Key front office figure Clemente Villaverde said that Leicester deserved to be in the quarters and warned that missing chances would be costly.
Now, Spanish pundits have said (pretty overwhelmingly) that Atlético were handed an easy draw - especially after drawing Barcelona or Real Madrid at this stage in the past three years - and are shoo-ins to a semifinal. But you will never hear the club say that, and moreover, they don't believe this will be a cakewalk.
FP: Who do you see as being Leicester’s most influential player in the tie? What does Atlético need to do to stop them?
IBC: Riyad Mahrez. He's looked like the Player of the Year again since Claudio Ranieri was sacked. His range of passing and set piece wizardry will be crucial to completing Leicester's counterattacks, and as Atlético's defensive structure often results in the ball being funneled out to the wings, left back Filipe Luís must be at his best to neutralize the Algerian.
It also appears Jamie Vardy awoke during the Sevilla tie, and Atlético's center backs - who haven't always been great this season - will need to shut him down when Leicester are able to play through the middle and in case he tries to bait anyone into picking up yellow cards.
Check back later this week for the second part of our discussion with Into The Calderon but be sure to check out their site for more about the Spanish side.