La Liga leaders Atlético Madrid are set to host Chelsea in the first leg of our Round of 16 Champions League tie in two weeks, on February 23 at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. But that looks increasingly unlikely to actually happen that way — and not just because Atlético now have six (6) players in COVID protocol, including Hector Herrera and Thomas Lemar the two latest, and are right on the verge of being classified as an outbreak by the local authorities.
The (even) bigger trouble is that Spain have travel restrictions in place currently for travelers from the UK due to COVID-19. And while those restrictions are technically set to expire on February 16, the expectation appears to be that they will be extended before then. And if that happens, with Spain not expected to grant any sort of “elite sportsperson” exception to Chelsea, the first-leg would have to played somewhere else.
It’s a similar situation for Liverpool’s match against RB Leipzig, which is set to take place in Budapest instead — Germany, France, Portugal, and Belgium all have similar travel restrictions in place to Spain for travelers from the UK at the moment, and UEFA have asked those affected teams to explore alternate locations lest they face a 3-0 forfeit. (Flipping the order of the fixtures seems to not be an option, while reducing things to a one-leg neutral-site match like last summer are not being considered seriously just yet. That shouldn’t be a surprise given that UEFA are still pressing full steam ahead with their pan-European, multi-site hosting plan for the Euros this summer as well.)
So, for the past week at least, Atlético have been making these contingency plans as well, should it become impossible to play at their home stadium. Bucharest looks to be the most likely option, while other less reliable reports have also floated Warsaw as a possibility (though Warsaw’s national stadium has been turned temporarily into a COVID treatment and inoculation site, so that could be problematic).
It’s unclear exactly when a final decision will be made, but one has to imagine it will have to be soon.