When Fernando Torres left Atlético Madrid to join Liverpool in 2007, the striker held a news conference bidding farewell to his boyhood club. At the time, his exit was a blow to the Vicente Calderon outfit, but in truth, the capital’s second club have never been short of goal scorers. Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan ensured the Spanish striker’s departure barely affected Atlético’s strike-rate, but in Falcao, Diego Simeone has one of the best, if not the best, striker in Europe. Forget Robin van Persie, and certainly forget Torres, Atlético’s current number nine can rightly lay claim to the accolade. Falcao is strong, hardworking and clinical. The 26-year-old, who was linked with a move to Chelsea during the summer, scored a spectacular first-half hat-trick to continue his superb record in European finals – he’s scored in three successive showpieces. The former Porto man raced on to Adrian Lopez’s pass before chipping Petr Cech for his first, before curling a delicious left-footed effort over the Chelsea goalkeeper. There was still time for Falcao to make it three, finishing a sweeping counter-attack on the stroke of half-time. For Atlético, it is fortunate the transfer window slams shut on Friday night,
As a player, Diego Simeone had a reputation as a fierce, combative midfielder. The 42-year-old had admitted Chelsea were favourites to win the Super Cup on paper ahead of the game but he stressed that what really counts was what happened on the pitch. Once Falcao put the Spanish side ahead in the seventh minute, they were content to soak up Chelsea pressure, before stealing possession and launching devastating counter-attacks. Even at 3-0 up, a sloppy Lopez pass sparked a furious reaction from Simeone – and the Spanish winger was not the only recipient of heated words from the Argentine. In his short time at the club, the former Internazionale star has won the Europa League title while turning around an ailing campaign in 2011-12 – and now he has masterminded the demolition of the Champions League holders. Breaking Spain’s double act of Barcelona and Real Madrid will be a difficult task, but with Simeone in charge and Falcao leading their attack, Atlético should at least lay claim to third place.
Without the suspended captain John Terry, Roberto Di Matteo partnered Gary Cahill and David Luiz in central defence, with Branislav Ivanovic at right-back. The former Bolton Wanderers defender certainly has good communication skills, and his enthusiasm is unquestioned, but with England manager Roy Hodgson looking on, Cahill struggled to cope with the movement of Atlético’s forwards, although his night was made slightly less painful with a 75th-minute consolation strike. Meanwhile, his team-mate, Luiz, was too easily drawn out of position by Falcao’s cunning runs. Earlier this month, AC Milan and Italy legend Franco Baresi rated Ivanovic as one of the best defenders in the world – and in the retired centre-half’s eyes, the Serbian is the same rich company as Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Thiago Silva. Ivanvoic, while certainly contributing when pushing forward from full-back, is wasted in the position, and, by his own admission, is more comfortable at centre-back. Even defending set-pieces, an art which Chelsea excelled at under Jose Mourinho, troubled the Blues against Atlético, with Miranda on hand to capitalise from an Atlético free-kick and net his side’s fourth.
Di Matteo splurged big fees on Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Oscar and Victor Moses during the summer transfer window, but what was evident in Monaco was the lack of a player who could link defence to attack, while offering protecting to an unreliable rearguard. In past seasons, Claude Makelele and Michael Essien have excelled in the anchor man position, but Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel struggled against Atlético. The England international has been forced to revaluate his role in the Chelsea team after a spell on the sidelines under former Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas. Formerly at the front of a midfield diamond, Lampard is now being asked to chase oppositions who are more agile and quicker than the 34-year-old in an unfamiliar position. Mikel has never really been an automatic starter in the position. Oriol Romeu has a big reputation and could slot into the role. Di Matteo’s side have already conceded nine goals this season, and with a plethora of attackers to choose from, Chelsea will certainly entertain – but it will come at a cost.
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