Liverpool’s defence of the Champions League will take them back to the scene of their triumph at the Wanda Metropolitano as the Reds were drawn against Atlético Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp’s side had to work until matchday six to secure their spot in the las-16, but they did so by beating Red Bull Salzburg in Austria thanks to two goals in two minutes. The first a lovely goal where Sadio Mané and Naby Keita took advantage of a goalkeeping error, and the second a breath-taking strike from Mohamed Salah, where he took advantage of a goalkeeping error.
That victory meant that the Reds topped their group by a single point, setting up a draw with one of the runners-up. It’s their misfortune, then, that they ended up with a tie against defensive powerhouses Atlético Madrid. Diego Simeone’s men have had an uneven season so far and finished second in their group behind Juventus, securing that spot on matchday six by beating Lokomotiv Moscow.
So that’s how both sides got to the last-16, but now they’ve been drawn against each other what do you need to know?
When is Liverpool vs. Atlético Madrid?
First leg: 18 February 2020 at the Wanda Metropolitano
Second leg: 11 March 2020 at Anfield
What does it mean for Liverpool’s schedule?
The Reds will be relatively pleased with how the fixtures shape up around their ties with Atleti. Three days before the first, they travel to East Anglia to play one of their favourite whipping boys Norwich; and then have a cushy home game against West Ham after they return from what will surely be a gruelling evening in Madrid.
There’s no travel involved at all around the second leg. The Reds play Bournemouth at home in an absolute gimme match-up before the second leg against Atleti; the ideal warm-up side for one of those special Anfield nights (should it be required). They do have to keep their game raised after the second leg however, as they will take the short trip across Stanley Park to play the second Merseyside Derby. But given they just won the first derby playing what looked like a Carabao Cup team, this fixture shouldn’t pose too many issues.
Previous meetings: Liverpool vs. Atlético Madrid
29 April 2010: Liverpool 2-1 Atlético Madrid (Europa League)
22 April 2010: Atlético Madrid 1-0 Liverpool (Europa League)
4 November 2008: Liverpool 1-1 Atlético Madrid (Champions League)
22 October 2008: Atlético Madrid 1-1 Liverpool (Champions League)
Aggregate Score: Liverpool (WLDD) 5-4 Atlético Madrid (LWDD)
Atlético Madrid’s strengths and weaknesses
Obviously the Atleti defence is their biggest strength, Simeone’s men are known throughout the world as one of the foremost defensive sides on the planet. Their defensive organisation is everything and the Argentinian coach makes sure to keep them playing in a deep-to-mid block, two rows of four, all working hard to deny the opponent space.
Their goalkeeper is worth mentioning apart from the defence. Yes, Jan Oblak is part of their supreme defence but he also stands alone as the last line, and quite often of late he’s been called upon to make spectacular interventions. Luckily for Atleti he is almost capable of anything, having kept 12 clean sheets so far this season. It’s obscene.
Moreover in Joao Felix, Atleti have a genuine superstar and the kind of attacking threat capable of anything. If Atleti can unleash him then forget about, even Liverpool could struggle to defend the space between the lines of midfield and defence.
This season Atleti’s defence hasn’t been as rigid as usual and that’s, in part down to the inexperience in the side. They sold nearly all of their experienced veteran defence in the summer and it’s left them looking less than cohesive even if they are objectively a superior group of players. So they can be “got at” defensively, especially with a team who delivers set-pieces as well as Liverpool do with Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Similarly Atleti’s counter-attack is nowhere near as potent as it used to. Los Rojiblancos used to be one of the most feared sides in the world, tearing forward on the break. But losing Antoine Griezmann in the summer has drastically altered how they play because they can no longer rely on the Frenchman. Meanwhile Diego Costa is also underperforming up-front which has forced them to rely on Alvaro Morata, and he has always been a streaky scorer. So they aren’t consistent in attack and are strangely unreliable in defence. Not the best mix.
Key Stat: Atlético Madrid have lost more Champions League finals without also winning the competition than any other club in history.
Atleti’s reaction to the draw
“You can say Liverpool are the best team around right now, given they are the reigning champions. But we will work hard and we won’t make life at all easy for the European champions,” Atleti club director Clemente Villaverde said following the draw.
Of course Atleti are struggling at the minute, but Villaverde was cautiously optimistic on that front given how long there is until the tie itself.
He added: “Let’s see how the form is in a couple of months. With how we’re growing and improving, I’m sure it’ll be another story. We’re playing well and want to be in with a shout of everything come the end of the season.”
If the tie were played next week, Liverpool would stomp all over Atlético Madrid. Their opponents are inconsistent and unreliable at the minute, and before their recent back-to-back home wins went four games without winning. The Reds, meanwhile, are absolutely flying.
But the tie is two months away, and that’s a long time in football. Liverpool may well have put the Premier League to bed by then (they mostly already have) but with no La Liga title to fight for, Diego Simeone can put all his eggs into the “beat Liverpool” basket and come up with a fantastic tactical gameplan and drill it into his players ahead of the last-16.
However, he’ll never be able to overcome his own pragmatism, and so it’s easy to see a heroic display in the first leg in Madrid where Atleti win 1-0 or maybe even 2-0. Where they throw their bodies on the line to blank the Reds and then snatch it with surgical counter-attacks against a Liverpool side that will let you have chances.
But this is a story we’ve heard before; and all their good work will be undone as Simeone heads to Anfield and tries to defend for 90 minutes; only to find that Liverpool’s relentless will to win and his own side’s mental fragility means there will be only one outcome from such an approach. They will hold as long as they can, but eventually they will cave to the pressure as they always do. Liverpool to advance.