Chelsea Captain César Azpilicueta is set to play in his 43rd Champions League match tonight, as the Blues take on Atlético Madrid in Bucharest in the Round of 16 first leg. But having joined the club right after our greatest European night in Munich, he’s yet to actually make it to that stage, coming closest in 2013-14 when it were Atlético, incidentally, who stopped us from reaching the final.
Atlético have been familiar foes over the past decade, and as we make our re-acquaintances today, we also have to do so with a certain Luis Suárez. He’s certainly left his mark (sometimes literally) when playing against Chelsea over the years, with both Liverpool and Barcelona, including with two assists the last time we faced him in the 2017-18 Round of 16.
The now 34-year-old was widely written off when switching from Barcelona to Atlético Madrid this summer, but not only is he leading his new team in scoring, he’s top of the charts in La Liga as well. He has 16 goals in 24 appearances, having reached that mark every season since 2007-08.
Captain Dave is well familiar with our old foe, and well aware of the danger he poses, alongside all his new teammates like João Felix and Ángel Correa.
“The best way to defend against [Suárez] is to keep him as far as possible from the goal and that’s a collective job. I faced him when he was at Liverpool and Barcelona in the Champions League so I know he’s a great striker.
“We know his numbers and we know wherever he has played, he has scored lots of goals so we have to try to defend against him together and keep all their attacking players away from our goal.”
While we must be worried about stopping their attack, new head coach Thomas Tuchel also wants the team to stick to playing our new controlled style.
Either way, we’ll have to be near perfect to get a positive result.
“[Atlético Madrid are] a very solid team, top of the league in Spain and that’s well deserved. Even though they lost last weekend at home, we know that we are facing a very strong team with experience in the competition, with a manager that they have been working together with for a few years.
“We have to try to play our game - to control the game, try to create chances, be clinical up front and defend well.”
Atléti are certainly the toughest draw we could’ve received and a dubious reward at best for actually winning our group this time around. But in order to be the best, often you have to beat the best. And to reach the top of the mountain in Europe, one certainly has to do that, and usually more than once.
“When I joined Chelsea in 2012 after the club had won the Champions League, of course it was my aim to repeat that. It’s something that sticks inside and every year when the chance comes, we want to go further. It’s the biggest competition in Europe so we know it’s very tough and as a group we have to be ready for the challenge.
“For me, it’s something that’s in me and hopefully we can start from tomorrow by having a good game, a good result and then we’ll see how far we can go.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: Chelsea FC
That challenge begins anew today.