Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid: Champions League preview and prediction
Ever since young Manchester United fan Daragh Curley wrote a letter to Jurgen Klopp, asking his Liverpool side to lose, the Reds have been on a relative decline. Since then, Liverpool have suffered three losses – to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, to Watford in the Premier League and to Chelsea in the FA Cup.
The defeat to Watford ended the hopes of emulating Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of the 2003-04 season. Losing to Frank Lampard’s men ended Liverpool’s aspirations of winning the ‘treble’. Tonight’s game against Atletico Madrid, is therefore, crucial to Klopp’s hopes of retaining the Champions League.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid have been lukewarm in their last few games. Los Rojiblancos have won two of their last five games across all competitions but are also unbeaten in this duration. These wins include the win at the Wanda Metropolitano over Liverpool and a 3-1 victory over Villarreal CF in La Liga.
Liverpool, compared to their form throughout the season, have been on a downward slope in the past few weeks. Three losses in the last five is not a good look for a side which was tipped to emulate Manchester United’s treble winning side of 1998-99 and Arsenal’s 2003-04 squad.
Klopp’s men were, however, victorious in their last outing – a Premier League match at Anfield against Bournemouth.
Liverpool’s biggest absentee in this match will be Alisson Becker. The Brazilian keeper picked up a hip injury while training for the FA Cup fixture against Chelsea. He missed the win over Bournemouth and will not be taking part in tonight’s game. He joins Xherdan Shaqiri on the sidelines.
Atletico Madrid is boosted by the returns of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata. Simeone finally has all three attackers fit. Thomas Lemar, however, remains a doubt despite returning to training on Monday.
Jose Maria Gimenez has also returned after a lengthy layoff. The Uruguayan hasn’t played a game since the start of this year and is unlikely to start in such a crucial fixture.
Sadio Mane vs Kieran Trippier
Liverpool’s key player in the win over Bournemouth this past weekend was Sadio Mane. The Senegalese is, arguably, the Reds’ most complete forward and a man for the big occasion.
Klopp is up against an Atletico Madrid side which has not been eliminated in the Champions League by a team without Cristiano Ronaldo. That speaks volumes of the iron defense that Simeone enlists in the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition.
The importance of this match cannot be overstated and Klopp will be looking to Mane to pave Liverpool’s path to the quarter-finals.
Simeone is likely to deploy Kieran Trippier in taking care of the Senegalese winger. The former Tottenham full-back has improved by leaps and bounds on the defensive end under Simeone. His speed and new-found defensive acumen will be a good counter to Mane’s directness and decision-making in the attacking third.
Mohamed Salah vs Renan Lodi
Where Mane is Liverpool’s most complete attacker, Salah is their greatest goal threat.
The Egyptian has found the net four times in this Champions League campaign. Salah has also provided two assists.
In the first leg, however, Salah was completely nullified by Renan Lodi who put in an impressive defensive shift. The Brazilian countered Salah’s guile with acute defensive positioning and relentless coverage.
Lodi was able to prevent Salah from cutting inside and his cause was also helped by a jaded Trent Alexander-Arnold. Tonight, the Brazilian full-back will have to be aware of the double-punch of Salah and Alexander-Arnold and cannot rely on the duo having a bad day. Expect Lodi to put in a massive lung-busting shift tonight.
Jordan Henderson vs Saul Niguez
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has been the epitome of midfield stability this season. The Englishman has rarely put a foot wrong this season and has been the spine of which this Liverpool side’s success is resting.
Saul Niguez, however, is primed to make it a hard night for Henderson. The Spaniard was the difference maker in the first leg. Tonight, with Liverpool expected to be offense-minded, Simeone will be relying on Niguez to be a focal point for counterattacks that can cause a death blow to Liverpool’s hopes.
Henderson, therefore, will have to take the lead in Liverpool maintaining shape and also hold on to possession. A job easier said than done especially against Atletico’s energetic squad.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid has not been knocked out of a Champions League knockout match by a team not having Cristiano Ronaldo.
This fact is going to be dominant theme for tonight’s game. Simeone has outlasted FC Barcelona’s MSN trident, Bayern Munich as well as Chelsea.
Can Liverpool’s much-vaunted forward line of Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino emulate Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Juventus sides? Simeone will try everything in his power to prevent that.
The Argentine is expected to allocate resources on the defensive end not be too engrossed in keeping possession. Liverpool, meanwhile, will be on a crusade to score two goals.
Klopp and Liverpool do have an unparalleled home advantage. The last time they faced a Spanish side in a Champions League knockout game at Anfield was the infamous 4-0 win over FC Barcelona.
Atletico Madrid’s away record this season is sub-standard with only two wins in 15 on the road across all competitions. Simeone’s side is winless in its last six games on the road.
In terms of quality, Liverpool are far better than Atletico Madrid this season and I expect them to do the needful and beat los Rojiblancos. The only caveat is that Klopp’s side will be able to grind out the result in extra-time.
Predicted scoreline: Liverpool 2-0 Atletico Madrid (a.e.t)