Olympiacos 3-2 Atletico Madrid, 16 September 2014
Tuesday night’s opponents Atletico Madrid ushered in their Champions League campaign with a 3-2 away defeat at the hands of Olympiacos in mid-September.
Heading into the game as strong favourites following last year’s sensational run to the final hurdle, Diego Simeone’s side found themselves with a mountain to climb as first Arthur Masuaku then Ibrahim Afellay shot the hosts into a two-goal lead with just 31 minutes played.
However, summer acquisition Mario Mandzukic immediately reduced the arrears when he headed Cristian Ansaldi’s cross beyond Roberto to lay the foundations for a second-half assault on Olympiacos’ goal.
Yet, despite twice going close through substitute Antoine Griezmann, it was in fact the hosts who re-established their two-goal cushion, Kostas Mitroglou lashing past Jan Oblak on 73 minutes to break his ten-month barren spell in front of goal.
There was still more drama to come though, as Griezmann set up a thrilling finale by getting the strike his efforts merited with four minutes of normal time remaining.
But Olympiacos held on in spite of heavy Atletico pressure, enabling Miguel’s men to see in their Champions League campaign with a flourish.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Juventus, 1 October 2014
A solitary Arda Turan effort on 75 minutes enabled Atletico to regain control of their Champions League destiny in October’s 1-0 win over Juventus at the Vicente Calderon.
The Bianconeri had every reason to rue their misfortune after a resilient defensive display at the home of last year’s finalists was ultimately undone inside the game’s dying embers.
Turan it was who decided an affair lacking in genuine goalscoring opportunities, guiding Juanfran’s cross beyond Gigi Buffon for a result that placed all four Group A teams on three points following Malmo’s win over Olympiacos in Sweden.
Atletico 5-0 Malmo, 22 October 2014
An inspirational performance from Koke - who broke the deadlock three minutes into the restart before providing goals for Mandzukic, Griezmann and Diego Godin – enabled the hosts to break down the stubborn Swedes, who had little answer once the mercurial midfielder shifted Atletico into top gear.
New recruit Alessio Cerci, who joined Diego Simeone’s men from the Bianconeri’s inter-city rivals Torino in the summer, also got in on the act late on, rounding off an enjoyable night for the hosts by netting a fifth in stoppage time.
Malmo 0-2 Atletico Madrid, 4 November 2014
It was to be a different story, however, when Malmo welcomed Atletico to Sweden for the return affair two weeks later, with a dramatically improved performance seeing the hosts dominate large spells of the contest.
Despite that, it was Simeone’s side who looked the most threatening in the final third, Koke again breaking the deadlock with a deft touch to turn Juanfran’s cross home after 30 minutes.
Malmo rallied valiantly and could have got back in it through both Anton Tinnerholm’s strike, cleared off the line by Miguel Angel Moya, and Rosenberg’s cleanly-struck volley that rattled off the post.
But Raul Garcia pounced to break Swedish hearts and secure three important points that took Atletico clear of Olympiacos and Juventus at the top of Group A on nine.
Atletico Madrid 4-0 Olympiacos, 26 November 2014
Out for revenge following their opening day reverse to the Greeks, Atletico secured their safe passage through to the competition’s last 16 in real style, putting four past Michel’s men during a virtuoso display at the Calderon.
Mandzukic was the star of the show, bagging a hat-trick, but it was in fact Garcia who set the hosts on their way with nine minutes on the clock, executing a tidy finish over Roberto after Juanfran had pounced on the goalkeeper’s misplaced back-pass.
Another error in the defensive third, this time from Alberto Boatia, enabled Simeone’s charges to snatch a two-goal lead seven minutes shy of the break, Mandzukic slotting home from close range after the centre-back had failed to clear Ansaldi’s cross.
Beginning the second half with similar purpose, Turan’s cross allowed Mandzukic to double his tally on 62 minutes, before the former Bayern Munich frontman wrapped up his hat-trick three minutes later, heading Gabi’s free-kick past Roberto to round off an excellent day at the office for the Spanish champions.