Yesterday was the draw for the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League, the last hurdle before the group stages commence. There are plenty of interesting ties (Steve McClaren’s FC Twente vs. Arsenal topping the list), but in pure footballing terms the best fixture pits Schalke 04 against Atletico Madrid. Neither is the most accomplished or talented team in the competition, but together they form the strongest pairing. We have already previewed Schalke on the site, so in keeping with our (inconsistent) commitment to equal air time let us take a look at Atletico Madrid.
Shared History: While everything but the teams’ names may have changed this is not the first meeting between the two in Champions League action (when it was still the European Cup). One must look back to the 1958-59 season, a year after Schalke’s 7th and most recent championship. Atletico defeated Schalke 4-1 on aggregate in the quarterfinals of the competition. Furthermore the two share a common foe in Bayern Munich. Atletico were unfortunate not to win the 1973/74 European Cup final, Georg Schwarzenbeck’s late (119′) equalizer leading to a replay and the first of Bayern’s three consecutive European Cup triumphs. Schalke’s own run-ins with Bayern have been well-documented and need not be rehashed here.
Domestic Pedigree: 9-time La Liga champions, and runners-up a further 8 more. 17-time Copa del Rey finalists (emerging victorious 9 times). They are La Liga’s third most successful club, although Real Madrid and Barcelona are in no fear of being overtaken anytime soon.
European Glory: Winners of the 1961-62 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and losing finalists the following season. European success has been fleeting ever since. A slight deviation saw Atletico reach the Cup Winners’ Cup final once again in 1985-1986, but lose decisively to a Oleg Blokhin-led Dynamo Kiev 3-0.
Prediction: Schalke’s a good team, at least domestically. Unfortunately Bundesliga squads in general have performed poorly in Europe over the past several years. If the talent alone were equal the psychological weight of European mediocrity would be enough to choose Atletico Madrid. There is a definite talent disparity between the two squads, decisively favoring Los Rojiblancos. Talent alone won’t win games, but it’s often the best indicator of success.
Atletico beat Schalke 04 4-2 on aggregate.
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