Atletico looks to deny Chelsea, Mourinho final
MADRID (AP) Jose Mourinho finds himself in the Champions League semifinals again, although Atletico Madrid hopes to make sure he fails to progress from this stage for the fourth season in a row.
Mourinho’s Chelsea plays at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon Stadium on Tuesday with its domestic title hopes floundering following a 2-1 loss to last-place Sunderland on Saturday. Atletico, meanwhile, secured an eighth straight victory to move within three wins of its first Spanish league title since 1996.
Mourinho made it as far as the semifinals twice during his previous spell in charge of the Blues before guiding Inter Milan to the title in 2010. Since then, he has three straight visits to the semifinals with Real Madrid, losing each time.
Chelsea faces the only unbeaten club, with Atletico having stifled Barcelona and AC Milan to make its first semifinal since 1974.
Here are five things to know before the first of two legs:
WELCOME BACK JOSE: Atletico coach Diego Simeone would like to pick up where he left off against Mourinho, following the latter’s time in Spanish football. Mourinho won two trophies in three seasons at Real Madrid, but capped his worst season as a football coach with a loss to Atletico in the Copa del Rey final last year. That stinging defeat helped to send Mourinho back to Chelsea and propelled Atletico on its improbable run to the verge of becoming the first Spanish club apart from Real Madrid or Barcelona to lift the Spanish title since Valencia in 2004. ”We’re not identical but we’re similar (teams),” Simeone said. ”Strong defensive work and direct play. Good on set-pieces. These are the qualities that got us here.”
HAZARD, ETO’O OUT: Chelsea is without two of its attacking weapons as Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o were left out of the squad on Monday due to injury. Hazard has not recovered from a calf injury sustained against Paris Saint-Germain on April 8 and Eto’o has ”a minor knee irritation.” ”There is no unfinished business,” Mourinho said of returning Chelsea to the semifinals. ”I did my best, I always do my best. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
TURAN RETURNS: Atletico’s attack received a major boost with the news that playmaking midfielder Arda Turan will be available. The Turkey international has been sidelined by a groin injury since a 1-1 draw at Barcelona in the opening leg of the quarterfinals. Turan’s return will aid Atletico’s attack with Spain playmaker Koke having been forced to be the main provider for striker Diego Costa. Diego Costa scored his 27th league goal in Atletico’s 2-0 win over Elche on Friday to take his season tally to 35 in all competitions.
STELLAR DEFENSE: While much of Atletico’s success can be attributed to the boot of striker Diego Costa, its defense has not only been Spain’s best but Europe’s too. Atletico has stifled opponents such as Lionel Messi and Mario Balotelli with ease and has conceded a competition-low five goals. While center backs Miranda and Diego Godin have been superb this season, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been outstanding without a dip in form. Atletico will be counting on the 21-year-old Belgium international against his mother club after UEFA ruled that Courtois could not be left out of the series due to any pre-agreed contractual agreements with Chelsea over his loan deal. ”We’re not worried about this matter,” Simeone said.
TORRES RETURNS: Chelsea striker Fernando Torres will likely face Atletico amid increasing speculation he could return to his boyhood club for good before next season. Torres spent the first six years of his professional career at Atletico, captaining the team before leaving for Liverpool in 2007. His career has stalled at Chelsea since his 50 million pound (then $81 million) move there in 2011, and the prospects of an emotional return to Atletico were raised after comments by Diego Simeone last week. Torres has found playing time fleeting of late but could feature after Eto’o was injured. ”Every day we speak about Spanish football, he is a real Atletico supporter, a big one. But he is a professional,” Mourinho said, ”and I have no doubts that the minutes he is on the pitch tomorrow he is going to try and do everything for Chelsea.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report.
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