Thursday, 2:45 a.m.
Atletico M v Leicester
H 1.31, D 5.8, A 13
Atletico Madrid and Leicester have a lot in common these days.
Relying on gritty defense and quick counterattacking, the teams meet at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on Wednesday in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.
“They remind us of the best Atleti,” Atletico left back Filipe Luis said. “They have very good players. It’s a solid team that defends very well.”
Atletico made it to two Champions League finals in the last three seasons thanks to Diego Simeone’s stout defense, one that allowed the team to successfully challenge the powerful attacks of teams such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Effective offense the other way secured Atletico the victories it needed to remain contending.
Atletico is playing in the Champions League quarterfinals for the fourth straight season. It lost the final to Real Madrid both in 2014 and 2016, the last one in a penalty shootout.
Leicester showed a lot of the same qualities when it stunned the soccer world by winning the Premier League title last season. Fierce defending, quick breakaways and precise finishes also kept it alive in its first Champions League campaign this season despite a struggling start.
“Leicester’s team is very similar to ours. It defends very well in the back and relies on counterattacks a lot,” Luis said. “We know it’s going to be very complicated. We are also a team that plays better against opponents that holds possession and tries to control the game. It will be an even matchup.”
Both teams head into the game enjoying their best run of the season after lackluster starts.
Atletico struggled with inconsistency early on but Simeone was able to get the team back on track entering the final stretch. Atletico is unbeaten in eight games in all competitions and is coming off a draw against Spanish league leader Madrid in the city derby at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Saturday. Atletico has conceded only two goals in its last seven games.
“It’s our best moment to take on this challenge,” Luis said of Atletico, which has won 28 of its last 34 games in European competitions at the Vicente Calderon.
Leicester has been on a roll since manager Claudio Ranieri was fired after guiding Leicester to the Premier League title. The team won six straight games under replacement coach Craig Shakespeare until a 4-2 loss at Everton on Sunday, when several regular starters were rested.
“We’re kind of thriving at the minute,” Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater said.
As the only side in the quarterfinals that had to play a domestic fixture as late as Sunday, Leicester comes into the match having lost its unbeaten record under new manager Craig Shakespeare after falling 4-2 at Everton.
The Premier League champions had won six consecutive games, including its Round-
of-16 victory over Sevilla, after sacking Claudio Ranieri.
However, with Shakespeare making five changes to his starting lineup, Leicester should be at full strength in Madrid.
“We’re all excited for Wednesday night and it’s going to be a great occasion, but we have to improve on that performance today,” winger Marc Albrighton said.
Atletico is playing its best football of the season and got a big boost Saturday from Antoine Griezmann, whose late equalizer earned a 1-1 draw at Real Madrid. AP/Oddschecker.com