Group C: Atletico, Roma ready for key Champions League clash

Atletico's visit to the Italian capital will be its first since 1999 in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals when it came from behind to beat Roma 2-1.

Atletico Madrid's forward Antoine Griezmann (c) takes part in a training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League football match against Roma.   -  AFP

 

Roma hosts Atletico Madrid on Tuesday in an opening game of the Champions League group stages which Italian coach Eusebio Di Francesco believes will be crucial to its ambitions.

In a Group C that also includes Premier League champion Chelsea, both sides desperately need to win in the Stadio Olimpico.

 Di Francesco insists Roma can match the technique and tactics of the Spanish — runner-up in 2014 and 2016 to Real Madrid.

 

"(Diego) Simeone's squad have a clear identity," Di Francesco said. "Perhaps less flair, but very tactically sound and they always know what their role is. They have reached two Champions League finals and you don't do that by accident. They have strong mental and physical qualities."

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"For us to compete with them we have to also go out on the pitch with those same characteristics — together with our own playing ideas," the Roma coach added.

"It's an important game, one of the great ones in the life of a footballer. We have the qualities to hurt Atletico."

Atletico's visit to the Italian capital will be its first since 1999 in the UEFA Cup quarterfinals when it came from behind to beat Roma 2-1.

"We are in a very balanced group where anyone can go through," said Simeone with Chelsea opening against Azerbaijani newcomer Qarabag.

"Chelsea, Roma and ourselves start with the same options. I live the present and tomorrow (Tuesday) begins a complex and exciting group stage."

ROMA v ATLETICO MADRID
  • Roma has won only one of its last 13 Champions league games (D5 L7). That was against Bayer Leverkusen in November 2015 (3-2).
  • Roma has also only kept one clean sheet in its last 22 Champions League games (a goalless draw against BATE Borisov in December 2015), conceding a total of 51 goals over that period.
  • Diego Simeone's teams has conceded on average 0.67 goals per game in the Champions League (32 in 48 games), the best ratio among managers to have taken charge of 20 or more games in the competition.
  • Only Real Madrid has played more Champions League games (51) than Atletico (48) over the last four seasons.
  • Antoine Griezmann has scored or assisted 50% of Atletico’s goals in the Champions League over the last two seasons (13 goals and 3 assists).

Griezmann returns

Atletico arrives in Rome on the back of a complicated start to La Liga, in which it is sitting sixth after one win and two draws. In those games Simeone could not count on striker Antoine Griezmann, who was banned, but will have him at his disposal on Tuesday.

The question is who will link up with the Frenchman with options Argentine Luciano Vietto and compatriot Angel Correa, who formed Atletico's attacking duo in the last two matches.

Candidates also include veteran Fernando Torres, or Frenchman Kevin Gameiro, back after groin surgery. "We will try to have a great competition and fulfil a dream, but everything depends on winning against Roma," said Atletico defender Diego Godin. "We know how important the first match is and it is key."

Roma has won one game and lost another in the Serie A but arrives more rested with a three-week break after last weekend's clash at Sampdoria was postponed due to torrential rain.

"Any advantage is relative, also because a lot of Atletico's players did not play in the last game against Valencia — so a lot of their starters are also rested," Di Francesco added.

Statistics though are not in favour of the Romans, having won just one of their last seven Champions League games in their home stadium. Di Francesco will have all his men, except for his summer signing, Czech striker Patrick Schick, who suffered a muscle problem.

CHELSEA v QARABAG

Stats:

    This is the first ever competitive encounter between Chelsea and Qarabag. In fact, the only previous meeting between English and Azerbaijani sides saw Tottenham face Qarabag in the 2015/16 Europa League group stages; Spurs won both games (3-1 at home, 1-0 in Baku).

    Qarabag is the only team, alongside RB Leipzig, to make its Champions League debut this season. It is also the first team from Azerbaijan to reach the group stages of the competition.

    Eden Hazard has scored only one goal in his last 12 Champions League games, it was from the penalty spot.

    This is Antonio Conte's third Champions League campaign as manager. His best performance was in 2012-13 when he reached the quarterfinals with Juventus.

    Chelsea has lost only one of its last 13 Champions League group games (W9 D3), away against Porto in September 2015 (1-2). The Blues have also scored in each of their last 24 group games at Stamford Bridge.

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