If one can draw their our eyes away from what is already shaping up to be a magnificent Premier League campaign, it would seem that with success comes obligations abroad, in the annual event of the champions of Europeans largest two tournaments locking horns. By the time we kick off at the Stade Louis II in Monaco, Chelsea will have played 4 games in 12 days, the exact tonic for a long, empty summer following our exploits in Munich.
The past 3 games have seen the Blues’ notch 8 goals whilst conceding twice; excite over the revitalisation of Fernando Torres, marvel over the baptism of Eden Hazard and exult, for Branislav Ivanovic has finally revealed his true Golden Boot ambitions. Not to mention, what is becoming a regular occurrence for Blues’ fans; the 12 yard, one on one face off, in which we can currently boast a perfect record. Roberto Di Matteo’s men have drawn praise and plaudits from pundits across the country, whom have resurrected our title chances as the Manchester giants stumble their way through their first 180 minutes of the Premier League campaign.
It can be said that the expeditions that come with the title of European Champions may serve as an unwanted distraction from our great start to the domestic season, but I urge these fans squinting far into the May 2013 sunshine at the flags and the finish line to take a step back and enjoy the journey, with the Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup surely providing a vast amount of air miles and subplot in what is shaping up to be a vintage season for the only London club to win the European Cup.
Athletico Madrid earned their place in the Super Cup final through the Europa league last term, beating Celtic, Lazio, Besitkas, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao en route. The game will of course mark the homecoming of Athletico prodigy Fernando Torres, as well the first signs Blues’ fans will get of the man touted as Petr Cech’s long term successor, Thibaut Courtois. Courtois, signed by Chelsea last summer from Genk, was immediately loaned out to Athletico, where he kept 15 clean sheets in 37 appearances last year, and has had a second season on loan in the capital penned. Ex Chelsea midfielder Tiago may also feature. Madrid beat their European foes Bilbao in their second league game of the season, 4–0 last Monday. Attacking dynamo and every transfer market hot topic Radamel Falcao looked inspired, scoring two great goals before a penalty secured his hat trick, adding to his growing goal scoring record and reputation since his big money move from Porto last summer. Manager Diego Simone is enjoying his first years in club management, the Oscar nominee he picked up for his theatrical performance in the World Cup ’98 semi finals now a mere footnote on his growing list of acclamations and awards picked up in Argentina and Spain.
I would expect Athletico Madrid to line up in a 4–4–1–1 system, with Arda Turan playing as a number 10 in behind front man Falcao. They have a nippy little winger by the name of Koke, a real blueprint of the tricky Spanish midfielders that have hit the European scene in recent years, whilst Urguayian Diego Godín is expected to man the centre of defence. Madrid struggled for goals last year from players other than Falcao, therefore Roberto Di Matteo will certainly reap the rewards of deploying one of our holding midfielders to shackle and isolate the prolific Columbian.
Chelsea, fresh from pulling and pushing Newcastle all over the Stamford bridge pitch, will have the option of welcoming European old boys Frank Lampard and John Terry into the starting eleven. It would be a fitting tribute to the Captain and his vice; both men have given so much to Roman’s European crusade over the past decade. Biblical namesakes and new Chelsea additions Victor Moses and Cesar Azpilicueta should also make the trip to Monaco. After parting the Red sea and ruling over the Roman Empire, it will be interesting to see just what Moses and Azpilicueta can bring to the Stamford Bridge elite. Cech, Iva, Cole, Hazard, Mata and Torres should all keep their places, whilst Di Matteo has decisions to make over the central defensive partnership, the holding midfielders and the left hand side of the attacking trio. Meireles had an astute game in alongside Mikel against Newcastle on Saturday, whilst Bertrand also played well on the left of the midfield prong.
Friday evening’s exhibition will bring together European football’s most decorated teams from the previous campaign. Against the lights and buzz of the Monaco strip, Chelsea’s expensive ensemble should make themselves feel right at home.
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