Though it still leads the La Liga title race with a narrow three-point lead and a game in hand, Atletico Madrid seems to be sputtering of late.
After a blistering start in the first half of the season, Atletico can only log two wins in five games.
Its last two matches ended in a 1-1 draw and a 2-0 loss, both to the same team, mid-table Levante.
Given the club’s recent subpar results, one can’t help but ask if Atletico peaked too soon.
Luis Suarez, La Liga joint top scorer with 16 goals along with FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, has suddenly turned gun-shy, failing to hit the back of the net in Atletico’s last three matches.
Atletico has 55 points, but Real Madrid (52 pts.) and Barca (47 pts.), with a game in hand, are closing in on the league leaders.
While trying to figure out why his squad is having a less than ideal run at this juncture in the domestic league, manager Diego Simeone for now needs to turn his attention to Europe as Atletico faces Chelsea in their Round of 16 Champions League clash on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Atletico, though, won’t be enjoying the benefits of playing at the Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid, no thanks to pandemic-related travel restrictions from the United Kingdom to Spain.
Instead, the first leg of Atletico vs. Chelsea will be held at the Arena Nationala in Bucharest, Romania.
As Atletico manager, Simeone hasn’t lost a single home match in the knockout stages of the Champions League, but playing a home-away-from-home game in Romania might be a concern.
As if losing home advantage wasn’t enough, Atletico also suffered back-to-back injury blows as winger Yannick Carrasco and defender Jose Maria Gimenez will miss the Chelsea match.
Simeone must now dig deep into his bench against a resurgent Chelsea, which sits at fifth spot in the English Premier League.
Head-to-head, Atletico and Chelsea are fairly even, with two wins and three draws each in five encounters in the Champions League.
Between the two clubs, Atletico seems hungrier for success, but in its current state, would that be enough to defeat the Blues?