Chelsea cannot wish for better timing to face Atletico Madrid ahead of the Champions League round of 16 first-leg tie on Tuesday.
For the Blues, the game against the La Liga leaders will be the start of their tough run of fixtures, including the upcoming games against Manchester United and Liverpool.
This match could have a positive or negative impact on their confidence, depending on the result.
Fortunately for the Blues, this is arguably the best possible time to play against Atleti.
And it is not only because the latter lose their home advantage after the match has been moved to Bucharest, Romania.
Uncharacteristically leaky Atletico Madrid
It sounds strange, but lately Atleti have not been the defensive powerhouse they are famous for.
Diego Simeone’s side has failed to keep a clean-sheet in seven consecutive games — their worst record in the manager’s nine-year spell.
They conceded 10 goals in these seven games, including the two goals from the 2-0 loss to Levante at the weekend.
Atleti defender Mario Hermoso summed it up perfectly after the game (via Marca): “Again, we’ve conceded goals that we shouldn’t have despite not conceding goals is one of the things that characterise us.”
Atleti missing key players
The home side have released the 21-man squad that will travel to Hungary, and there are a few big names missing from the list.
Yannick Carrasco, Sime Vrsaljko, and their main defender Jose Gimenez are out of the game due to injury problems.
Including Hector Herrera and Kieran Trippier who will not be available due to Covid-19 and suspension, respectively, Simeone will be without five first-team players.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel also has a few injury problems, but Thiago Silva, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic might still be available.
One potential tactical problem for Chelsea
Despite the two narrow wins, Chelsea have not been as comfortable when playing against three at the back systems (Wolves, Sheffield United, Barnsley).
Obviously, the sample is small, and there are several other factors, but this might have something to do with the fact that Chelsea could not outnumber the opposition defenders like when playing against back-four.
Unlike in back-four systems, the three at the back structures provide teams their own wing-backs to deal with Chelsea’s wing-backs that have been essential to Tuchel’s game plan.
This is interesting because Simeone’s Atleti have shifted from their famous rigid 4-4-2 to 3-5-2.