Champions League football is back this week and one of the first teams to play in the round of 16 is Liverpool. On Tuesday night, the current Champions travel to Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, the venue of their title triumph last June, to take on the hosts Atletico Madrid. It is a round filled with some exciting ties such as Real Madrid vs Manchester City and Dortmund vs PSG but football fans worldwide will be watching the Atletico Vs Liverpool tie with anticipation to see if the Spaniards can stop the treble-chasing Reds or can the Champions stay on track to their third consecutive final.
Atletico Madrid reached the Round of 16 by finishing second in Group D behind Juventus but above Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow. Perhaps the only upset in their route to the knockout stage was their loss to the 10-men Leverkusen in Germany. In the La Liga however, Simeone’s men are not in the greatest of form. Atletico sit 12 points behind the league leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand. They come into the game on Tuesday having drawn against Valencia (6th but only 2 points behind). Their record in 2020 so far reads played 6, won 2, lost 2, drawn 2. Simeone’s side are also facing a sort of an injury crisis with as many as seven first-team players potentially likely to miss out on Tuesday. These include forwards Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, and Joao Felix as well as defenders Kieran Trippier and Jose Gimenez. Some, such as Morata, Felix and Gimenez might make it to the side on Tuesday but Simeone will be missing some key personnel for sure.
Liverpool have no such worries. They come into this game having scraped a 1-0 win at Norwich City, but more importantly after a two-week winter break. This gives Klopp the luxury of a virtually completely fit squad to choose from. They come into the Round of 16, having topped the Group E with 13 points, just a point ahead of Napoli. One of their only two losses this season came in the Champions League, when Napoli beat them in Naples on MD1 in the group stages. But Jurgen Klopp’s side has since then picked up some serious momentum and are looking virtually unbeatable. Liverpool crossed a few milestones with the win against Norwich on Saturday. They have now qualified for next season’s Champions League and we are still in February. They also sit 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, having played one more game than Manchester City. With just five more wins needed in their remaining 12 league games, Liverpool have the freedom to focus exclusively on Champions League if they wish to do so.
- Atletico Madrid and Liverpool have a perfectly balanced record in Europe with one win each and two draws (4 goals each). Their only previous Champions League encounters came in the 2008/09 group stages, when both the games ended 1-1. However, Atletico eliminated Liverpool in their only knockout tie in Europe – the 2009/10 Europa League semi-finals, a tournament that Atletico won.
- Liverpool are winless in their last five away games against Spanish opposition in Europe, losing four (D1). Their last victory in Spain came in Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 in 2008/09 against Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu (1-0).
- On the flipside, Liverpool have always progressed against Spanish opponents in a two-legged Champions League tie (3 out of 3): having beaten Barcelona twice (2006/07 and 2018/19) and Real Madrid in the aforementioned (2008/09) season.
- The two managers Diego Simeone and Jurgen Klopp have similar records in European knockout stages. Atletico have never lost at home under Simeone in the Champions League knockout stages (W8 D4), having conceded merely 2 goals in those 12 games. On the other hand, Liverpool have never lost a two-legged European tie under Jurgen Klopp.
- Then again, Liverpool have never won three consecutive away Champions League games. Their last two away games were Genk (MD3) and Red Bull Salzburg (MD6) and if they manage to win at Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday night, then they will match the record set by Joe Fagan’s side in September 1984 (in the European Cup).
The Portuguese forward has underwhelmed a bit in terms of his performances in the La Liga. However, he was a key creator for Atletico during the Champions League group stages. He suffered a leg injury in January end and has missed three league games since then. But he might be back for the game against Liverpool on Tuesday night. Given that he averages 1.01 xG + xA per 90 minutes in the Champions League, Simeone will hope that the 19-year old indeed is available on Tuesday. While both of his goals came against the relatively easier opposition of Lokomotiv Moscow, Felix did give a decent account of himself in two appearances against Juventus in the group stage. He delivered 7 attempts (2 on target) in 126 minutes against the Italians and was key a key threat for Atletico.
Sadio Mane had been facing an injury of his own but he did get fit over the winter-break and came back with a winning goal against Norwich City after he was brought on for Oxlade-Chamberlain in the second half. Sadio Mane is Liverpool’s chief goal threat in Champions League knockout stages, having scored 10 goals in 14 appearances since 2017/18, second only to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 11 goals during the same time. While his xg + xA per 90 minutes of 0.68 does not seem very high, but the fact that he is more likely to complete 90 minutes in a game makes him more dangerous. In the group stage, he delivered 14 attempts, 7 of which were on target and yielded 2 goals. Additionally, he also contributed with 2 assists in those six appearances.
For Atletico Madrid, some of those on the injury list might return but it is fair to say that Simeone’s selection will be largely constrained. Alvaro Morata came back from the bench against Valencia on Friday and will likely start against Liverpool to make his 50th appearance in the competition. Joao Felix was not risked against Valencia but might return against Liverpool. There is even an outside chance for Diego Costa, who has been injured since November, to return against Liverpool.
For Liverpool, there are no major injury concerns, other than the long-term absentee Nathaniel Clyne. For Jurgen Klopp it is a problem of plenty as he has to select his first XI in Madrid from an almost completely fit squad. He might be tempted to make a few swaps to ensure that his team is able to deal with the physicality, which will be on show in Madrid. From this perspective he might swap Fabinho in for Naby Keita. But he is unlikely to make too many changes from the side that played against Norwich on Saturday.
While Atletico’s slightly poor form and their list of injuries are both real, they are a major force at home. Simeone has an unbeaten record in knockout stages at home and his side will try very hard to stretch that record further. On the other hand, while Liverpool are a side with great momentum and will be difficult to stop. These factors suggest a score draw to be the most likely result on Tuesday night.
Atletico Madrid 2 – 2 Liverpool