Last week was a chastening experience but it is one City survived. Enveloped within the sun-drenched confines of the Vicente Calderón, they withstood almost everything their illustrious hosts could muster. One moment; a stumble, the referee’s whistle, the swing of Antoine Griezmann’s left foot.
One goal without return, from 12 yards in the 28th minute, handed Atléti a slender but crucial advantage. The naysayers have since returned, prophesying that the end is nigh for the Foxes fairy tale. They uttered those words last week too. And City stood tall in the Arganzuela sunshine.
Filbert Way awaits Diego Simeone’s band of European heavyweights. They’ve been to the Santiago Bernabéu lately without wilting. But, as Sevilla discovered, the Leicester City Stadium is a unique setting – even for those who frequent far larger, far more imposing grounds across the world.
City have earned the right to be here and are determined to enjoy the ride. From Bruges to Copenhagen, Porto to Seville, they have embarked on a European tour they’ll never forget. Such is the brutal nature of knock-out UEFA Champions League football, though, it could all end in a heartbeat.
Memories of Marc Albrighton slotting home in Belgium will last forever. So, too, will the thought of Islam Slimani, the dragon slayer of Lisbon, sinking old adversaries Porto last autumn. The sight of City’s exhausted heroes tumbling to the floor last month, drained at full-time, proved how much this means.
One season is a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. Nights like these, mind you, act as a reminder that the stakes have never been higher for Leicester City. When Wes Morgan hoisted the Premier League trophy aloft back in May, these are the nights that populated the Blue Army’s dreams.
Atléti, meanwhile, arrived in the UK on Monday afternoon. Simeone knows the drill. This is well trodden ground for the Argentinian head coach. The Spanish press seized their chance to quiz the Buenos Aires native on the key issues. Are Leicester a threat? “Of course, they are a big danger,” he said.
The unwritten manager’s code of conduct dictates that only the greatest respect will do in such circumstances but Simeone knows all about the weapons in City’s arsenal. Their threat was there in flashes five days ago. With a raucous Filbert Way crowd at their disposal, there’s little Craig Shakespeare’s men cannot achieve.
The odds are against Leicester, of course, but when haven’t they been? As the likes of Saúl Ñíguez, Koke and Diego Godín strode out onto the turf on Monday night, a throng of photographers momentarily obscured their view. The crowd cleared, the sun shone through and a sea of blue, white and gold flags came into focus.
The scene is set – and the visitors will understandably be bullish of their chances. They know how to handle nights such as these. They have battle-hardened European experts among their ranks. The heartbreak of last summer merely serves as an extra motivation. Defeat to Real Madrid in the final on a glorious evening in Milano, their second in three years, still hurts dearly.
Leicester, spurred on by their odds-defying antics of past campaigns, hope to beAtléti’s latest villains. The pretext will count for little, however, once the referee’s whistle blows. When the unstoppable force of Madrid meets the immovable object of Leicester, there’s no telling how the dust will settle. At 7.45pm tomorrow, we finally find out.