Reigning European champions Liverpool will face off against Spanish heavyweights Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.
After a two-month layoff, Champions League football returns this week, with the first leg of the Round of 16 set to get underway on Tuesday. The action will kick off with a belter of a clash as current trophy holders Liverpool travel to Spain to take on Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Atletico Madrid’s season has seen a lot of ups and downs. While they qualified for the knockout stages fairly comfortably, finishing second in Group D behind Juventus, Diego Simeone’s men have been in poor form recently. Indeed, Los Rojiblancos have won just one of their last seven matches in all competitions, with their most recent game ending in a 2-2 draw against Valencia in La Liga.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are flying high this term. The Reds have already won the FIFA Club World Cup and are on course to win their first ever Premier League title. They did have a couple of minor hiccups in the Champions League, but finished as Group E winners. Following a 1-0 win over Norwich City last weekend, Jurgen Klopp’s side are currently on a 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
This will be the first meeting between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid in almost ten years. And ahead of this high-profile encounter coming our way from the Wanda Metropolitano, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.
Team News & Tactics
Atletico Madrid continue to be plagued with injury problems in the attacking department as key players Diego Costa and Joao Felix are once again doubts for the game. Alvaro Morata returned to action against Valencia at the weekend, which will be a boost, but Kieran Trippier and Hector Herrera are still sidelined.
There are unlikely to be a whole lot of changes made to the side that started the last league game. Jan Oblak is the undisputed choice in goal and will need to be at his best to keep a dangerous Liverpool side at bay.
Jose Maria Gimenez is back to full fitness, but was benched against Valencia. He is in line to start on Tuesday along with Felipe at the heart of the Atleti defence. Santiago Arias is expected to start at right-back again, having returned to action last time out, while Renan Lodi is a certainty on the opposite side.
Thomas Partey and Marcos Llorente both scored in the draw against Valencia at the weekend and are expected to hold the fort in the middle of the park against Liverpool again. Flanking the central midfielders should be Saul Niguez and captain Koke.
The fit-again Morata ought to return to the starting lineup on Tuesday night. The former Chelsea star is likely to replace Vitolo, with Angel Correa being retained in the two-man strike-force.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Oblak; Arias, Gimenez, Felipe, Lodi; Koke, Llorente, Partey, Niguez; Correa, Morata
Unlike Atletico, Liverpool almost have a clean bill of health, with Xherdan Shaqiri and long-term absentee Nathaniel Clyne the only two players ruled out from the trip to Spain. There could be a couple of changes made by Jurgen Klopp to the side that started against Norwich this past weekend.
Alisson Becker has been brilliant for Liverpool and is a certainty to feature between the sticks, while the first-choice backline of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson is unlikely to be tinkered with by Klopp.
There should be a change in the middle of the park, with Brazilian enforcer Fabinho slotting in at the base of the three-man midfield unit. His inclusion will allow Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson to move into a slightly advanced role and have more of an impact in the final third. Gini Wijnaldum is a shoo-on for the third midfield slot.
The attacking unit also ought to see a solitary change, with Sadio Mane coming back into the starting XI after having made a successful return from injury against Norwich. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the one to make way.
Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have played more Champions League games than anyone else since 2017-18, featuring in 31 of Liverpool’s 32 games. They will once again be starting on Tuesday at Atletico, completing the Reds’ attacking trifecta.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane
- The head-to-head between Atletico Madrid and Liverpool in Europe is perfectly balanced with one win each and two draws (4 goals each). However, Atletico eliminated Liverpool in their only knockout tie, it was in the 2009-10 Europa League semi-finals, a tournament Atletico won, beating Fulham 2-1 in the final.
- Atletico Madrid and Liverpool’s only previous Champions League encounters came in the 2008-09 group stages – both games ended 1-1.
- Liverpool are winless in their last five away games against Spanish opposition in Europe, losing four (D1). Their last victory dates back to the Champions League round of 16 in 2008-09, against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu (1-0).
- Atletico Madrid have never lost at home under Diego Simeone in the Champions League knockout stages (W8 D4). In those 12 games, they’ve only conceded two goals.
- Liverpool have always progressed against Spanish opposition in a two-legged Champions League tie (3/3): 2-2 on away goals v Barcelona (2006-07 round of 16), 5-0 on aggregate v Real Madrid (2008-09 round of 16), 4-3 v Barcelona (2018-19 semi-finals).
Player to Watch
Having been sidelined with an injury, Mane returned to action this past weekend against Norwich City, proving to be the match-winner as he scored the only goal of the game. The 27-year-old has been in prolific form this season, having already found the back of the net on 16 occasions in 32 matches across all competitions, while he also has 11 assists to go along with.
Mane has scored 10 goals in 14 Champions League knockout games since 2017-18. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has been more prolific over that period (11 goals). He will be looking to carry that form forward when Liverpool face off against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night.
Atletico Madrid 0-2 Liverpool
Atletico Madrid’s form in recent weeks has been nothing to write home about. In contrast, Liverpool are racking up win after win, as they keep finding ways to come out on top when things get difficult. The Reds’ record in knockout stages against Spanish sides isn’t all too great, but on current form they are the overwhelming favourites to win on Tuesday.
The last time Liverpool played at the Wanda Metropolitano, they lifted the Champions League trophy, beating Tottenham in the final last season. And, they are likely to return to Anfield from Atletico’s home ground with more happy memories, bagging another win this week.