Manuel Veth –
Atlético Madrid vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Wednesday, December 11, 20:00 GMT/21:00 CET – Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid – Spain
While the standings of Group D with one round of matches to go offers little shock, the lack of comfort zone for Atlético Madrid is surprising to say the least. At the halfway point of this stage, it would have been unthinkable that Bayer Leverkusen would be mathematically in with a shout of edging into the Champions League knockouts ahead of the 2014 and 2016 runners up. In reality, with Leverkusen needing to beat Juventus at home to have a chance of achieving that still unlikely outcome Atlético need not allow nerves to wash over them completely. The very fact that they might need to rely on their mental fortitude is an unusual position for them to be in.
Diego Simeone’s footballing philosophy has never been one that leads to free-flowing goal feasts. In this context, a lack of goals would normally be of as much concern as it might be to other sides, but there’s little escaping the fact that only two teams outside the relegation places in La Liga have scored fewer than their rate of one goal per game. Two league wins from their last ten is a dreadful return from a side expected to at least challenge for the title; only managing to score more than once in two of those games tells at least part of the story for their struggles.
It was always likely to be a season of some adjustment with the significant disruption of the transfer spree that saw half the spine of the team leave. Maintaining an ethos that thrived through the emotional leadership Simeone instilled in his lieutenants has been a tall order, but if the former midfielder is capable of anything, it is upsetting the odds. As for continental aspirations, it seems unlikely that this iteration of Atlético will trouble the latter knockout rounds so there is a reasonable case to be made for an increased focus of returning to next season’s Champions League over pushing hard to progress in this one.
One saving grace for them is the forlorn short-term motivation for Lokomotiv Moscow. Their campaign has been a far improved one compared to last season’s dire serving, but the history books will record it as very similar when the end result is considered. An opening week win away to Bayer Leverkusen set the tone for a far more enterprising endeavour in which Juventus were pushed all the way in Turin and Moscow. After tonight though, there will be nothing tangible to show for promising but ultimately fruitless performances.
Domestically Lokomotiv have been desperate in recent weeks. Hammered 4-0 by a limited Arsenal Tula side that had won just two of their previous 11 league matches was as humiliating as it was damaging to their already frail title hopes. Now 11 points behind Zenit St. Petersburg with 11 games remaining, their only hope is to get back up into the top three places that offer a route back into the Champions League. The winter break has probably come at the right time for Yuriy Semin to reset, recharge, and plan a final assault on the Russian Premier League table. This trip to the magnificent Wanda Metropolitano is little more than an unwanted distraction.
Grzegorz Krychowiak was under no illusions about the task that faces he and his teammates – or about that facing Atlético themselves – earlier this week. “I have always liked Simeone’s manner of playing,” he said in the pre-match press conference. “He plays with heart. I don’t have much talent but I am a player who always fights and runs. When we play well, we can hurt opponents. We showed this against Juve. We have come to Madrid to win; we want to show that we can compete with strong rivals.” If all they have is heart, they will need every ounce of it to get a result.
Atlético Madrid vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Players to Watch
Álvaro Morata #9 – Atlético Madrid
A look at the CV of Álvaro Morata tells of a stellar career, but there has rarely been a period in the 27-year-old’s playing life when he has been full of confidence. His scoring rate of about one goal every three games is extremely modest for player who has commanded over 160m in transfer fees and has played as the point of attack in some of the best teams in the world. Now back where he started his youth career, Morata finally has a coach and system that appears to believe in him. In Simeone’s 4-4-2 setup he has more direct support from a strike partner – usually the bulldozing organised chaos of Diego Costa or the lythe silkiness of Portuguese wunderkind João Félix – and he is slowly responding. His scoring instincts will be important for Atlético to take advantage of the ample dominance in possession his side are likely to enjoy.
Danil Kulikov #69 – Lokomotiv Moscow
It is hard to know exactly how much game time Kulikov will get in Madrid, but given the dead-rubber nature of the fixture for Lokomotiv it is highly likely Yuriy Semin will hand at least a few minutes to the youngster. Dmitri Barinov has been superb this season anchoring the midfield but with his suspension, a potential chance for the next generation has temporarily opened up. Kulikov has a calm head on his shoulders, and while his position and nature is unlikely to threaten Atletico, his industry and awareness of teammates’ positioning could throw a spanner in the works of the Atletico machine. There is little to prove for any of the senior players with domestic action finished until March; this is the perfect occasion without any real pressure for Kulikov to shine.
Atlético Madrid vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Match Stats
- Atlético have lost their last two games in this competition, but still sit in pole position to qualify – a win will suffice regardless, or Bayer Leverkusen failing to beat leaders Juventus
- The Spanish side haven’t lost in four previous meetings with Lokomotiv, during which time there have been 17 goals in total
- Atlético have failed to score in any of their last three competitive matches
- Lokomotiv are out of Europe whatever happens. They are three points behind Bayer Leverkusen but with an inferior head to head record
- Their win away to Leverkusen on matchday one was their first on the road in the Champions League in 14 attempts (D4, L9)
- Lokomotiv have only lost six of their last 15 European away games (W5, D4)
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Atlético Madrid vs Lokomotiv Moscow: 2-0
Atlético Madrid vs Lokomotiv Moscow – Possible Lineups
Oblak – Trippier, Felipe, Hermoso, Lodi – Koke, Thomas, Herrera, Ñíguez – Morata, Félix
Manager: Diego Simeone
Konchenkov – Ignatyev, Corluka, Cerqueira, Howedes, Rybus – Kolomeytsev, Krychowiak, Kulikov – Aleksey Miranchuk – Eder
Manager: Yuriy Semin
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.