Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid: Match Preview (UCL Round of 16, First Leg)
Liverpool will return to the stage of their latest European Cup triumph as they look to add more to the impressive tally of six. The Reds face a formidable opponent in Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
The Spanish giants have enjoyed a resurgence under the Argentine tactician and have played in two Champions League finals in the last seven years. The Spaniards haven’t exactly lived up to their reputation this season, but Liverpool could not have wished for a harder matchup.
Funnily enough, Simeone could not have wished for a harder draw either with the Reds arguably the best team on the continent at the moment. Atletico are a side known for their strong defense and resilience to being broken down.
It is a classic case of an unstoppable body meeting an immovable object. Jurgen Klopp’s Red juggernaut will face a worthy opponent and it would be no surprise if the tie were to be decided by solitary goals or away goals.
Liverpool and Atletico have the best defenses in their respective sides and have found themselves surprisingly difficult to break down. The Reds, however, have a better attack than the Spaniards and will go into the game as favorites.
If the team performs as it should, it will be yet another happy visit to the Wanda Metropolitano for the Reds.
Jurgen Klopp has an almost full squad to choose from. Apart from Xherdan Shaqiri and Nathaniel Clyne, the rest of the players should be available. Fabinho and James Milner got a run out at Carrow Road last Saturday as they continue their return to full fitness. Klopp will be glad to have the services of Sadio Mane. The Senegalese returned to action against Norwich and made an instant impact as he grabbed the winner with 12 minutes to go.
Takumi Minamino who was dropped at the weekend is also in contention, although he is unlikely to start.
The Spaniards have struggled with a number of injuries to key personnel this season. They will, however, welcome back a number of them albeit not necessarily at full fitness.
Simeone will be sweating over the fitness of Diego Costa with the match coming too soon for Joao Felix and Kieran Trippier. Alvaro Morata came off the bench against Valencia and should start on his 50th appearance in the competition. Koke returned to action at Valencia on Friday while Jose Gimenez made the bench. The Uruguayan international is expected to partner Felipe in central defense.
Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson, Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah
Jan Oblak, Santiago Arias, Jose Gimenez, Felipe, Renan Lodi, Thomas Partey, Koke, Marcos Llorente, Saul Niguez, Yannick Carrasco, Alvaro Morata
Liverpool and Atletico have met four times in competitive matches.
The sides met for the first time in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League group stage with both games ending 1-1. They once again met each other in the UEFA Cup semifinals in 2009/10. Diego Forlan won the game for Atletico at home 1-0 before Liverpool won the reverse tie 2-1. With the tie tied at 2-2, the Spaniards progressed on the away goals rule.
Sadio Mane and Andrew Robertson vs The Atletico right flank
Jurgen Klopp will have taken notice over how Ferran Torres terrorized the Atletico full-backs in the game against Valencia.In Mane and Robertson Liverpool have two energetic and direct attackers who can run up and down the flank all match.
The ability of the duo to overlap on the counter coupled with the pace to get back make them a formidable proposition to come up against. It was visible on the weekend when Mane’s introduction led to the Liverpool left playing a more decisive role going forward.
By putting Atletico on the backfoot, Liverpool can draw players away from the midfield. This can give more space for the Henderson and Fabiinho to exploit while Alexander Arnold can add further pressure by cutting infield.
Concurrently if Salah starts out wide on the right and pushes inwards dragging his marker with him, Alexander-Arnold can bomb up the right flank to deliver his devastating crosses.
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Henderson vs Koke
Jordan Henderson has been immaculate this season. He has lead from the front as Liverpool have made a mockery of the English Premier League. The captain will once again be called upon to dominate the midfield as Liverpool try to get a precious away goal.
In Koke, he will meet a seasoned footballer who has played at the highest level. The Spaniard has however just returned from an injury that should give Henderson an advantage when it comes to stamina.
Henderson’s ability to bring the ball out of midfield and start an attack has been massively underrated. With Fabinho looking likely to start, the skipper should have plenty of support in midfield.