Chelsea really couldn’t be heading into their Super Cup final match in a better position. We’ve won our first three league matches, with our most recent performance having been comfortably our best, also with a fully fit squad and with our best players in some wicked form. The significance of the Super Cup is always debated, with some seeing it as only a novelty game, not to be given any serious consideration. Others however, share the view of Roberto Di Matteo, that the event is a major European final and deserves the full attention of any participating club. Personally I find myself in the former camp – whilst it would be nice to win and I’m looking forward to the match, a victory along with a bad injury to a key play would be a disappointing evening – and a loss wouldn’t be the end of the world.
In a way, Friday’s match is the end of an era for the competition, as next year UEFA break a 15 year tradition of holding the match at the St Louis II Stadium in Monaco. It’s a tradition that Chelsea were involved in the start of as well, in our only other appearance in the competition in 1998. As holders of the Cup Winners Cup we played reigning European Champions Real Madrid and beat them 1-0, thanks to a goal from Gus Poyet, who came on as a substitute for Roberto Di Matteo of all people! It was a fantastic achievement for the club beating a side that included Clarence Seedorf, Raul Gonzalez, Roberto Carlos and Fernando Hierro. This time around, their Madrid neighbours shouldn’t pose quite so much of a challenge.
Atletico have also only participated once in the competition and also have a 100% record as they beat Rafael Benitez’s Inter side two years ago. Also just like us, there’s no doubt how seriously they’re taking the game; yesterday Coach Diego Simeone came out with this:
“People may think Chelsea are superior because they won the Champions League, but when there is only one match to play we all know that everything becomes more difficult.
We don’t have anything to prove. It is a match between two teams that have won two different cups and we are very proud of the cup we won.
We know the Super Cup match is beautiful, but we focus on every single match. We know how important it is. After having won the Europa League, and now facing the Champions League winners, we are in a nice place. I hope we can enjoy it.”
All very true and eloquently put, but let’s be honest, people don’t think Chelsea are superior than Atletico because we won the UCL and they won the UEL – they KNOW Chelsea is superior because we are so clearly a bigger club with a far stronger team. Simple as that really Diego, don’t try and be too clever.
For me the big talking point surrounding the game involves our on-loan keeper Thibaut Courtois and his participation in the fixture. From where I’m sitting, the Chelsea fan club is split. Half would love to see Courtois compete, just to have a good look at him in an important game and for him to get more experience of playing in big European matches. The other half would rather Chelsea forced Atletico to play their far less talented #2 Sergio Asenjo, in order to give ourselves the best chance of winning. Personally, given the stance RDM has taken over the importance of the trophy I’m surprised we are allowing Courtois to play. If he plays a blinder and Atletico end up winning, questions will no doubt be asked. All things considered though, I’m not against it. He doesn’t drastically improve Atletico’s chances of winning, it would be nice to see him play properly and I think he deserves the opportunity after playing so well for his club last season. Good luck to him, but not too much.
Having a look at the rest of Atletico’s team, they’re a pretty decent side and I expect they’ll use a similar system to us. The return from injury of Brazilian full back Filipe Luis is good news for them; it’ll allow them to return to using a standard back four, rather than having to use Cristian Dominguez as a makeshift wing back. I predict Filipe and Silvio Pereira will start at full back with Diego Godin and Joao Miranda at centre half.
In midfield, Captain Gabriel Fernandez (Gabi) is an important player for them and he’ll form a double anchor with either fellow club youth graduate, Mario Suarez, or vice captain and former Blue, Tiago Mendes. Without question though, Atletico’s best players are their forwards. Young Spanish striker Adrian finally cemented a first team place last season scoring 18 goals as a right forward, including 11 on the continent. Uruguayan Cristian Rodriguez is another potential danger man, the winger has won 9 trophies in the last 3 years for club and country before his contract at Porto expired this summer. Key playmaker Arda Turan completes an impressive attacking trident.
We all know their star man however is their #9 Radamel Falcao. The centre forward is unquestionably one of the best players in the world and arguably the greatest marksman playing in Europe at the minute. His record for Villas-Boas’ all-conquering Porto side and for Atletico last year was just frightening. In particular his record in the Europa league – 30 goals in his last 31 games – is just ridiculous! He’ll be the man to watch out for Friday night for sure, it’ll be fascinating to see him match up physically against David Luiz. Whilst he’s by no means their only point of attack, odds are if we can keep Falcao quiet we should win the game.
Looking at Chelsea’s squad, John Terry is the only unavailable player along with Marko Marin. Terry is serving the final game of his reduced ban so fortunately will be able to play in our opening CL group match. Gary Cahill will start at CB along with David Luiz, who RDM confirmed is fit despite a bad bang on the head against Newcastle. I loved that image of Luiz smiling with a bandage around his head, sometimes, because of all the jokes and the tweets and his image I think it’s easy for people to underestimate what a tough bloke Luiz is – there certainly isn’t a forward in the world at the minute who could bully Luiz around on the pitch.
Frank Lampard who was rested against Newcastle will most likely return to partner Mikel in midfield, who has been excellent so far in my opinion. Mata and Hazard will doubtless keep their places behind the actually in-form Fernando Torres, with the final position likely to be taken up by Ramires. Daniel Sturridge, Ryan Bertrand and Oscar all remain feasible choices however, we’ll have to see.
Predicted Line-ups then for Friday:
Atletico: Courtois, Silvio, Miranda, Godin, Filipe, Gabi, Suarez, Dominguez, Arda Turan, Adrian, Falcao
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Luiz, Cole, Mikel, Lampard, Ramires, Mata, Hazard, Torres
English sides versus Spanish opposition usually makes for good viewing. Last year Chelsea beat two Spanish teams, Valencia and Barcelona, on the way to UCL glory, both of whom finished higher in the league than AM. To be honest I expect Chelsea to win here. Much will come down to our handling of Falcao but our #9 isn’t looking too bad at the either. 3-1 to Chelsea is my prediction.