Atletico Madrid are ready to kick-start their mission of going one better in the UEFA Champions League against Olympiacos this evening.
Diego Simeone’s men were just seconds away from lifting the trophy in May, but Sergio Ramos popped up for Real Madrid to force extra-time and further goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo saw Los Galacticos run away with it.
Atletico enjoyed a huge breakthrough season last year in Europe in addition to winning the La Liga title, as they won five out of six matches to top Group G.
A stunning 5-1 aggregate win over AC Milan followed in the last 16 before a hard-fought victory over fellow Spanish side Barcelona in the quarters. Atletico then comfortably swept former Real boss Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea aside in the semis.
Their quest to go one better begins at the Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus tonight, and they take a lot of added confidence with them after another derby win at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
They have made a fairly solid start to their domestic title defence and are currently unbeaten after their opening three games, just two points behind Barca after wins over Real and Eibar as well as a goalless draw with Rayo Vallecano.
While Olympiacos may not provide the most difficult test for Atletico, they will be no pushovers having reached the knockout stages of the Champions League last year beating the likes of Benfica and Manchester United along the way.
However, the side that have won nine of the last 10 Greek Superleague titles have only reached the quarter-finals once in their history. That was back in the 1998/99 season when they eventually succumbed to Juventus who - along with Malmo - are the other opponents in Group A this year.
There is also an added incentive to the clash too given that manager Michel spent 15 of his 16-year playing career with Real, and then went on to manage their B team as well as Vallecano, Getafe and Sevilla.
Meanwhile, former Barca defender Eric Abidal and current loanee Ibrahim Afellay will want to gain some personal revenge for last season’s title decider going against their old club.
After dropping just two points in the group stages last year, Atleti face tougher opposition this time around with Juve undoubtedly posing the greatest threat.
If Atletico can outfox them over the two games and hold their own against Olympiacos and Malmo, then that should be enough to see them through to the last 16 come December.
But it all starts this evening, kick-off is at 19.45 BST.
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