Chelsea look set to gamble on the fitness of Captain John Terry as they welcome Atletico Madrid for the Champions League semi-final second leg tonight.
Terry, who so impressively marshalled the sought after Diego Costa in the first leg, has been out of action since limping off in the first leg, was expected to miss the rest of the season, with a potential Champions League final being his only hope of playing again.
Since then, Terry has made a dramatic recovery and took part in training in the lead up to the game, and is expected to start alongside regular partner Gary Cahill in defence.
Jose Mourinho also welcomes back Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o, but is without the injured Petr Cech, the cup tied Nemanja Matic and Mohammed Salah, while Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel will both miss the game due to suspension.
Chelsea’s recent ‘park the bus’ tactics have been heavily criticised but also very successful, yet injuries and suspensions to key players may force Mourinho to release the handbrake.
With suspensions of Lampard and Mikel, Chelsea go into the game without a natural defensive midfielder. David Luiz is expected to partner Ramires in the pivot, but both have tendencies to push forward, with both Brazilians guilty of losing their heads at key moments.
This is where Mourinho’s main surprise could come from, with Nathan Ake coming into the side alongside Luiz to give Chelsea a much needed defensive boost.
In the attacking quartet, Mourinho’s men are buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o, but the pair are famed for their attacking threat, not defensive capabilities. Playing Eto’o upfront also denies Chelsea an ‘out-ball’ when defended, meaning they must take the infinitive and dominate this game.
Expect Hazard to start through the middle, with Andre Schurrle and Willian either side, allowing Chelsea to revert to 4-4-1-1 when defended and really shut up shop on Atletico’s impressive forward line.
The La Liga leaders have gone six games unbeaten, without conceding, but that 0-0 two weeks ago was the only game in which they have failed to score. Simeone’s team know how to get the job done, and with their city rivals Real in the final, will be desperate to get there as well.
It will be interesting to see how Atletico go about the game, do they try and get a goal early and sit back on their lead and play on the counter, or do they allow Chelsea the ball and try to pick them off during the 90 minutes?
Atletico will certainly show more attacking intent then Chelsea did two weeks ago, but that is because the Blues will allow them time on the ball, inviting them to come out of their own defensive third.
However, they will be without influential skipper Gabi, who has been an ever present figure in Simeone’s midfield during this season.
Chelsea know all too well how difficult it is to be without your leader, and the Londoners’ will be hoping it has the same effect on their opponents.
The big advantage for Chelsea; is that they’ve done this many times before, and have had some wonderful nights at Stamford Bridge, including the recent comeback against Paris St. Germain.
With the game in a very delicate position, predictions are going to be very difficult, but hopefully it’ll be another big European night at the Bridge, with the Blues winning 2-0.