PSV v Atletico Madrid
Thursday February 25, 6:45am
The Dutch champions are flying the flag for the entire country, with this the first time that a team from the Netherlands – the fifth-most successful nation in European Cup/Champions League history – have reached the knockout phase since they last did it nine years ago.
It is an enjoyable time to be a PSV fan domestically too. Eight straight victories leave them on course to retain the Eredivisie, having gone seven years without the title before regaining last season. Their feat is made all the more impressive by how well they have adjusted to losing Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum.
They will need to cope just as well without suspended top goalscorer Luuk de Jong in the first leg if they are to have a chance of continuing on to the quarter-finals as they did when they last ventured this far in 2006/07. Andres Guardado and Maxime Lestienne are also injury doubts.
Three setbacks in five La Liga games have effectively ended Atletico’s title challenge, causing them to fall eight points behind Barcelona.
However, every club that they spilled points against in that period are in the top five and their form remains strong enough that they are above Real Madrid, so their potential for a deep Champions League run is considerable, especially after getting to the 2013/14 final and last term’s quarter-finals.
The Colchoneros are a bit lighter on midfield options than usual at present though, with Tiago Mendes, Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Partey all unavailable at the Philips Stadion, but they still boast the likes of Gabi and Saul Niguez in that area of the pitch.
The question that all punters must seek to answer before this encounter is whether Atletico Madrid are a back or a lay at 1.90 and, after careful deliberation, this writer is committing to the back camp.
They have won more away fixtures than anyone else in La Liga in 2015/16, prevailing nine times in 13 attempts. Barcelona have been the sole side to score past them let alone take points off them in five road trips since Christmas, while they took seven points from a possible nine on their Group C travels.
PSV triumphed in their three home group ties, yet Manchester United, Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow don’t really come close to rivalling the recent continental class and consistency of Atletico, so this is a significant step up for a team who were beaten in front of their fans by Chornomorets, Ludogorets, Dinamo Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg across the last two campaigns.
Diego Simeone’s employers were 3-0 winners on their previous visit to Eindhoven in 2009, and that result arrived a few years before the current great era under the Argentine, at a time when the clubs would have been looked upon as equals by many.
Atletico Madrid Win to Nil
If you are sold on the case for the Atletico win, you might as well top up your potential returns by backing them to do so without conceding at 2.80. The Rojiblancos have claimed victories in 21 La Liga or Champions League matches this season, and 17 of those were earned to nil.
If those numbers aren’t sufficient to convince you, here are a couple more: they have kept clean sheets in seven of their last ten away games in those two competitions, while their only group-stage leak abroad was a late consolation in the final outing at Benfica.
PSV were shut out in two of their final four group clashes, and two of the four goals that they did net in that timeframe came courtesy of the absent De Jong.