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A Champions League Query: Getting to Know Atletico

There’s more to this side of Madrid than Antoine Griezmann...we think.

Club Atletico de Madrid v SSC Napoli - Audi Cup 2017 Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images for Audi

Roma’s latest Champions League quest, otherwise known as don’t lose 7-1 again, begins tomorrow when the Giallorossi welcome Antoine Griezmann and Atletico Madrid to the Olimpico. In order to learn a bit more about Roma’s next opponent, we traded questions with our colleagues at Into the Calderon, who were kind enough to oblige us; the flip side of this Q&A can be found here.

Chiesa di Totti: Atletico is off to a bit of a slow start, what gives? What do they have to do this season to keep pace with Real and Barca?

Into the Calderon: Atlético are doing things a little different this year. Knowing that the club couldn't sign new players due to a FIFA-imposed registration ban, Diego Simeone refused to sanction any sales of important players and has started to adopt a rotation policy and is trying to make his team more tactically versatile. That's an ongoing process, as the 1-2-0 record to this point indicates. Stalwarts Diego Godín and Gabi did not play at Valencia this past weekend, while former bit part players Lucas Hernández and Thomas Partey started and played the entire 90 minutes in defense and midfield respectively.

Atleti have also been without superstar Antoine Griezmann the past two games — he was shown red and suspended for two games during the opening 2-2 draw at newly-promoted Girona after he called the ref a coward.

Without new signings, Atleti will be aiming for third place again this season — Real Madrid are the strongest side in Europe and Barcelona still have Lionel Messi. However, the gap could close once versatile winger Vitolo arrives in January — with Diego Costa possibly joining him. All eyes will be on the Champions League.

CdT: For those who may not be terribly familiar with Atletico, who is the biggest attacking threat outside of Griezmann?

ItC: Yannick Carrasco is a dangerous presence out wide and probably the second-biggest threat behind Griezmann. When he's on his game, the Belgian's outrageous pace and ferocious shot can trouble even the best defenses, and his work rate has improved since his arrival from Monaco two seasons ago. But Carrasco is prone to long scoring droughts and is somewhat of a flat-track bully; what's more, Simeone has had problems with his attitude in the past.

Ángel Correa has been touted as Griezmann's replacement when the latter leaves next summer, and it's not hard to see why. The Argentine tied for the team lead in assists last season and operates best as a second striker with his intelligent movement and link-up play. He's off to a great start this season with two goals in three games, but he may not start in Rome.

CdT: What, if any, significant moves did your club make this summer? How did that address any glaring weaknesses?

ItC: Other than signing Vitolo from Sevilla and loaning him until January...not much! Atlético are still expected to sign Costa from Chelsea at some point before January after spending most of the summer haggling with the Blues over a fee. Atlético made a little over €70m by selling left back of the future Theo Hernández and other fringe players. {Editor’s Note: I was unaware or simply forgot about Atleti’s transfer sanctions. My blunder}

CdT: On paper and by reputation, Atletico should be favored, but what worries you most about playing Roma, particularly on the road?

ItC: I'm afraid Radja Nainggolan will carve Atlético up! Roma have several attacking weapons which could prove tricky for Atleti's defense to track. The pace of a Stephan El Shaarawy will be important to contain, for one. We might not do all that well in a back-and-forth affair, so it will be important to control the tempo and stay compact defensively

CdT: Going along with that, Chelsea have rebounded after a slow start in the Premiership, would you consider them favorites in this Champions League group? If so, what chances does Atletico have of taking the group honors?

ItC: I would still give Atleti the edge as favorites. Atleti have won their Champions League group four years running and were a Robert Lewandoski free kick from finishing unbeaten at this stage last season. Simeone's men are battle-tested in this competition, and after losing two finals in four years, they have arguably more motivation than anyone in the field. The Chelsea games will be fascinating, but how los rojiblancos do in visits to Rome and Baku will decide the group, in my opinion

CdT: Finally, give us a prediction for Tuesday

ItC: 2-1 Atlético.

Thanks to Into the Calderon for agreeing to do this swap, but you’ll notice we each picked 2-1 victories for our side, so who will win out?