A sideways look at Spanish football
INVASION! Ahead of the FC Porto vs Atletico Madrid game, FFT.com blogger The Portugeezer – aka Sérgio Santos – pops by to introduce the Portuguese permachamps – and explain how they can be beaten
Sorry for invading Tim’s turf, but I thought Atlético Madrid could use a little help to bounce back from their indifferent form and defeat FC Porto on Wednesday.
It’s not exactly a secret that Los Colchoneros have been struggling in the league.
The team currently sits in the relegation zone, having failed to win any of the first five matches, and is desperately looking for a good result.
Sorry to say it, but Porto aren't the opponents Atletico need to recover from a poor run of results.
Quite aside from winning four consecutive league titles, the Dragons have got through the group stage five times in the last six and, on the domestic front, claimed a morale-boosting 1-0 win against rivals Sporting CP at the weekend.
BLOG, August 19 2009: The Usual Suspects - Porto
Not everything is gloom and doom though.
Trailing five points behind leaders Braga in the league, Porto seem to lack cutting edge and are still learning how to live without summer departees Lucho (who moved to Marseille) and Lisandro Lopez (Lyon).
The fact that Cristian Rodríguez and Varela are doubtful for the match may be good news for the Spanish side, because Mariano González, despite his work-rate, doesn’t pose half the threat the two others do.
The Argentinian is an ‘ugly duckling’ type of figure at Porto and if he plays, then Atlético may turn their attention to the more dangerous forwards: Hulk and Falcao.
Porto will play in their usual 4-3-3 formation with Belluschi playing as offensive midfielder.
Jesualdo Ferreira surprised everyone when he included Colombian midfielder Freddy Guarín against Chelsea, but I doubt he will be as cautious in a home game.
Probable starting XI: Hélton; Fucile, Alves, Rolando, Pereira; Costa, Meireles, Belluschi; Hulk, González, Falcao.
So, here's five things Atlético should remember in order to tame the Dragons.
1. Respect FC PortoAtlético have more money and boast players with higher profile, but contrary to what many believe that is not enough to give them the upper hand.
Why? First of all, Porto have much more Champions League experience than the Rojiblancos. As a matter of fact, the Dragons have been in the competition more times than any other team, bar Barcelona and Manchester United.
Secondly, not many teams go to the Estádio do Dragão and grab three points.
At home, Porto enjoy dictating play and attacking, and they’ll do the same regardless of the opposition.
And finally, another reason for Atletico to respect Porto: in the last 16 of the previous Champions League campaign, the Portuguese side gave the Spaniards a footballing lesson – even if they only went through via away goals.
2. Keep a leash on the Incredible Hulk You won’t like him when he’s angry!
Hulk – and no, that's not his real name, but he's Brazilian so it's fine – hasn’t reached top form this season, but his explosive combination of strength and pace is enough to guarantee a few headaches for the Spanish side.
When he hits top speed, stopping him is about as easy as stopping a moving train.
The best thing to do is to prevent the train departing, i.e. by tight-marking the Brazilian and making a few minor fouls to stop play every now and then.
If he's not able to evade his marker, he’ll get frustrated and lose focus. This may be even more important in the event that Varela or Rodríguez don’t play.
Last year, he was given a lot of room by Atletico – and he simply destroyed their defence.
3. Frustrate themHaving qualified automatically for the group stage, Porto will be hosting their first continental match of the season – and after an unimpressive start in the league, they'll want to give their supporters a convincing win.
They'll attack from the first whistle and Atlético will probably have to weather a storm in the first 10 minutes.
To counter the Dragons, the Spaniards should opt to control possession and decrease the tempo of the match.
A compact midfield and a short-passing game are likely to help the Rojiblancos’ cause and frustrate the home side.
Let’s not forget these two teams will probably fight for the second place behind Chelsea and a draw away would do Atlético no harm at all.
4. Use wingersIf you want to fly, spread your wings. Even though Diego Forlán and Sergio Agüero are one of the best striking partnerships in Europe, they won’t do much if they are not properly served from wide areas.
Moreover, in Bruno Alves Porto have a top centre-back who can keep them both quiet.
The weak links in the home back four are probably the full-backs; Jorge Fucile and Álvaro Pereira are very solid when going forward, but they have yet to convince me when defending.
Atlético should then explore the wings with the likes of Simão, Maxi Rodriguez and José António Reyes in order to create more goal opportunities.
Also, by using width in a clever way, they can stretch the opposition and make a better possession game.
5. Forget about the APOEL gameDon’t cry over spilt milk. The visitors have to put the APOEL game behind them.
The Champions League group stage is about six games, not one, and the last thing Atlético will want to do is making a wrong move to try to erase the disappointing game against the Cypriots.
The Spanish side have the players to claim a good result, but they need to get their act together and be 100 percent focused on this match.
Read more from The Portugeezer
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100% Focused, and Atlético, lately sounds like an oxymoron. Still, you can expect the unexpected with the Colchoneros.
P.S: Ouch! Seville were rather cruel. Mind you, it's telling that Walter Smith has an even worse side than last year. Rangers not going anywere this time. (Like all the other times).
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