There will be an intense battle in Eindhoven as PSV Eindhoven play their first UEFA Champions League knockout match against Atletico Madrid in approximately a decade. Their opponents have won two UEFA Europa League titles and have been seconds away from winning the UEFA Champions League in less than half of that time. Both teams have the quality to make this a mouthwatering match-up.

  • By Chaka Simbeye
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psv ensPSV will go up against Atletico Madrid in this young team’s biggest challenge yet as the rood-witten will look to edge out the Rojiblancos. PSV will be without captain and top scorer Luuk De Jong for the first game of the tie which is a blow but a manageable blow as he will return for the second-leg. Atletico are one of the toughest teams in La Liga and will need to be treated as such but PSV will also need to battle hard to beat the team from Madrid.

The name on everybodies lips at the PSV press conference yesterday was Andres Guardado who should be fit enough to return for PSV. The former Valencia winger could probably be the most important component of PSV’s side as his passing range will allow PSV to be more fluid and incisive. Especially with a quick attacking trio of Gaston Pereiro, Jurgen Locadia and Luciano Narsingh and the ferocious Atletico press, Guardado will be needed to clip balls forward and set up intricate passing sequences. Guardado has found Narsingh with brilliant long balls against Feyenoord and FC Twente in the second half of the season while also being able to create havoc from set-pieces.

“Andrés is a very important player for our team. Not only in quality but also in personality. A real connection factor. He is an example of a player who has an effect on other players. I’m glad he’s reconnected,” said Cocu in the press conference.

“Guardado helps the team forever. He is very important for the team, especially in a match like tomorrow’s.” said Propper yesterday.

However, the return of Guardado brings up a conundrum of it’s own as either Jorrit Hendrix or Marco Van Ginkel will have to drop out as Phillip Cocu is unlikely to drop Davy Propper. Jorrit Hendrix allows Guardado to spread his influence over the pitch as he will bring his physicality and solid positioning to the midfield while Van Ginkel brings more in an attacking sense. Cocu could obviously go with a midfield four or five to match Atletico in midfield and attempt to dominate the wide areas. Propper brings energy, skill and quality in the final third to the rood-witten and will need to support the front three adequately while not leaving his midfield and defence vulnerable.

This game will be a litmus test of the maturity of PSV’s defence as in Antoine Griezmann, Atletico possess a player who will chase after every ball and can turn a lost-cause into a goal in a matter of seconds. Jeffrey Bruma and Hector Moreno have been stellar in the Champions League, especially at home but are prone to lapses in concentration at the latter stages of games. Atletico normally come alive at the latter stages of games and have subsititutes in Luciano Vietto/Fernando Torres and Angel Correa that can change the game. In the words of Johan Cruyff in his weekly De Telegraaf column ‘One moment of distraction and it is done.’Bruma and Moreno are brilliant at playing the ball out of the back and will need to be careful with the aforementioned Atletico press while they need to show strong decision making when deciding to play the long ball or short passes.

The fullbacks who will probably be Santiago Arias and Jetro Willems will need to put in accomplished all-round performances in order to be part of a rigid defence and add something in attack. Filipe Luis and Juanfran are two of the top fullbacks in the world and put in performances like that week in, week out and will provide an enticing battle on the flanks. Willems has 2 assists in 2 games as he has looked like the marauding fullback he was last season and will look to pump his pin-point crosses on the overlap. Arias seems to have found his rhythm again and loves to utilise the space between the fullback and the centreback, especially when Narsingh drags his fullback out wide. However, the Colombian who is naturally a tigerish fullback will need to maintain an essence of calm in his defensive duties and not get carried away as he usually does.

The front three will miss the foil of De Jong but will need to make up for it by being innate in their passing and movement to trouble a rigid defensive unit. Locadia has worked hard on the left flank but will need to find his goalscoring prowess. He tends to snap at shots which has led to him only having two goals in the Eredivisie between the end of October and now. As a central striker, he will need to be quick and intricate with his passing and clinical in the box while also holding up the ball to bring players like Pereiro into play. Pereiro is Cocu’s secret weapon and has been since his suprise start away to Ajax which resulted in a matchwinning brace. He is capable of working the tight spaces and finding pockets in the box where he can find goals but PSV will need him to be effective for the full game and help out his fullback.

Narsingh has regained his form in the second-half of the season with 4 goals and an assist in eight games in the Eredivisie. PSV’s front three is made for the counter-attack and the outball as their combined pace and Propper’s runs from midfield can cause any team problems. However, if Atletico sit deeper and force PSV to play then the home side could struggle as the leaders of the Eredivisie can spend large parts of games wasting their possession with pedestrian build-up play and poor finishing. The rood-witten also have strength on the bench with the returning Maxime Lestienne who can be creative on the left flank, Adam Maher who is capable of bringing zest to midfield when he is confident and Florian Jozefzoon who has a terrific turn of pace on him.

Cocu and Simeone both possess an intimate understanding of their teams in order to spur them on for the game while being tactically astute enough to prepare their teams adequately. The game will be an intense battle in the pressure cooker that is the Phillips Stadion where PSV have not lost a game in the Champions League. While PSV will be without De Jong, Atletico will be without Yannick Fereira-Carrasco which strips away a dimension of the Atletico attack. Nevertheless, both teams must not be trifled with.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)