So far this season, Athletico Madrid have been a revelation in both Spain and in the Champions League. They dumped Barcelona out of the Champions League yesterday and currently sit at the top of the league back in their homeland. Their success is built on being a team, trusting each other and having faith in their manager Diego Simeone and his ideas. The problem, though, comes when one card is pulled out, sometimes the whole house of cards can come tumbling down.
That is the threat Athletico face if they draw Chelsea in the semifinals of the Champions League, or even if they were to meet in the final. Outstanding young Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Coutois has been fantastic for Athletico since he joined in 2011 and surely will be one of the best goalkeepers in the world in the very near future.
Courtois, of course, is still owned by Chelsea, and he is only on loan to Athletico — probably until Petr Cech retires or drops a level. Reportedly, there is a clause in the loan contract which says Courtois cannot play if the two teams meet in the Champions League, and if Athletico would like him to there is a sizable fee that must be paid in full for them to do so. Reports suggest Athletico can certainly not afford that fee either.
So, if Athletico meet Chelsea either now or in the final, it looks as if they will have to do so without a big piece of their jigsaw. It would be a huge blow for the Spaniards at the worst possible time. How do they replace Courtois for such a huge game? They can’t — that’s the truth. That is the drawback of loaning good players; the parent club is not going to allow you to field the player against them.
It will be down to the draw now to decide, but if Athletico do meet Chelsea at some point, it looks like a much bigger task to win now. But it looked a big task to challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for the title right until the end. And making the Champions League semifinals did too, as well as replacing Radamel Falcao when he left for Monaco.
But Athletico did all of those things.
Which tells us, it may be tough, but never write Athletico Madrid off — not with this current side. Everything looks tough for them, but just as much so, everything is achievable for them too. Just ask Barcelona.