For Atlético Madrid, this year's Champions League campaign gets underway some 1,300 kilometres from home - and, on 1 June 2019, hopefully finishes up in the place they set off from yesterday: their stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano. As they kick off their 2018/19 European adventure, neither Diego Simeone nor any of his charges are prepared to contemplate a final in which they're not lining up at the Wanda. However, tonight's is a first step on the road back to Madrid that sees them come up against a daunting obstacle in the shape of Radamel Falcao, 'El Tigre'. Few know as well as Atleti how ferocious his bite is.
Atlético's reunion with Falcao
Tonight's game at the Stade Louis II witnesses a reunion with Falcao on one of the stages where, six years ago, he etched his name into the Atlético history books with a wonderful hat-trick in a 4-1 Uefa Super Cup dismantling of Chelsea. He may not have a plaque outside the Wanda (his total of 91 games for the club means he falls nine short of the required century of appearances), but his status among the Atleti faithful is assured.
For Thomas Lemar, it'll also feel funny not to line up alongside the Colombian. Indeed, not only him, but the rest of the Monaco team, having swapped the Principality for the Spanish capital this summer after 127 appearances and one Champions League semi-final, in the process becoming Atlético's most expensive ever signing. So far, like every new signing under Simeone, he still needs time to get used to life in the Atleti side.
Monaco v Atleti for the first time
It's Monaco and Atlético's first meeting in Europe. Both come into the new campaign with wrongs to right from last season: for the visitors, it's a case of banishing the spectre of Qarabag; for the hosts, bouncing back from a 2017/18 group stage that yielded just two points from six games. However, neither have started as they'd have hoped in their domestic league. The whistles aimed at 'El Cholo' for his withdrawal of Rodri can still be heard at the Wanda; Monaco, meanwhile, have so far failed to launch. Absences have taken their toll, it must be said: Leonardo Jardim is without his first-choice keeper, Danijel Subasic, is missing the attacking invention of Aleksandr Golovin and the left foot of Marcos Lopes, and Stevan Jovetic too. Jardim is set to go with three at the back, hand the right flank to Djibril Sidibe, a player much admired by Atlético, and of course there’s 'El Tigre'.
Meanwhile Simeone has Lucas Hernández back after he missed the Eibar match and he’ll play, maybe for Filipe Luis or maybe Diego Godín. The rest of the side will be as it was for Saturday, with maybe one or two changes. Atleti need Koke to find his rhythm and Diego Costa to produce some goals and for Antoine Griezmann to forget all the doubts produced by the team’s start to the domestic campaign. Although in reality that’s all another story, tonight it’s a different tale… it’s the Champions League and Atleti want to be at home on 1 June 2019.