Liverpool’s quest to retain the Champions League goes on after they booked their spot in the last-16 draw.
The Reds went into the final gameweek still needing a result to qualify, but they got one with ease in the end by beating Red Bull Salzburg 2-0 in Austria. It guaranteed the Premier League leaders top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli and Jurgen Klopp’s side will be seeded for the draw on Monday.
As always in the Champions League last-16, teams are unable to draw other sides from their domestic league or their group. Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea’s position as runners-up means Liverpool have just five possible draws, also excluding Napoli. They are Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon and Atalanta.
Yes, if Liverpool want to win a seventh Champions League this summer, they will most likely have to beat some of Europe’s best teams (as they did last season with Barcelona). But, that doesn’t mean they will want them at the first knockout hurdle. So, who will Liverpool want to avoid in the last-16 and which side would give them the best chance of advancing?
We’ve taken a look below…
What’s the best draw Liverpool could get for the Champions League last-16?
Best Champions League finish: Last-16 (current season)
Current domestic league position: 6th in Serie A
After four games in the Champions League group stages, competition debutants Atalanta looked like they were on their way out. The Italian side had just one point and sat bottom of Group C behind Manchester City, Shakhtar Donestk and Dinamo Zagreb.
But, against all odds, they did manage to qualify on the final matchday, after two wins in their final two games including a commanding 3-0 win over Shakhtar. In doing so, Atalanta became the first-ever Champions League side to qualify for the knockout stages — not a second group stage — having lost their first three games of a group.
A moment to celebrate, this Atalanta side will undoubtedly be remembered for some time by those with the club at heart. But that doesn’t take away the fact that they are, arguably, the team everyone will want to draw if they can.
La Dea have no experience of Champions League knockout football and are in some ways statistically the worst side left in the competition. They qualified with the fewest points (seven), scored the joint-fewest goals (eight) and had the worst goal difference (-4), with only Tottenham Hotspur (14) conceding more than their 12.
Tactically, Atalanta stick to a three-man central defence and use their wing-backs to do the attacking, something Liverpool have taken advantage of in the past. The likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will be champing at the bit to exploit spaces in the Atalanta defence if this particular draw is made.
Plus, Liverpool fans may like the idea of a trip to the San Siro, where Atalanta have been playing their Champions League matches.
What’s the worst draw Liverpool could get for the Champions League last-16?
Best Champions League finish: Winners (13 times)
Current domestic league position: 2nd in La Liga
Head-to-head: Liverpool wins: 3 Draws: 0 Real Madrid wins: 3
Liverpool fans will surely fancy their chances against any of the runners-up, given the confidence gained not only from the Champions League victory but also their start to the 2019/20 Premier League season. But there are still sides that could cause problems, foremost of which is Real Madrid.
Although Los Blancos looked unstable at times in the group stage, this is still Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane’s side will have their sights set to regaining the crown they lost last season. While Atalanta are knockout newbies, Real Madrid are kings, having won the European Cup more times than any other team.
As Liverpool fans will no doubt remember, Real Madrid’s 13th glory came at the expense of the Reds in a 3-1 defeat that included a Gareth Bale wondergoal, Mohamed Salah’s injury and Loris Karius’ night to forget.
This season, Real Madrid were one of the better runners-up with only Napoli gaining more points than their 11, and they lost only once to Paris Saint-Germain. They have carried this form into domestic affairs, too, currently sitting second in La Liga only behind Barcelona on goal difference – with the pair yet to face off.
With Zidane back at the helm, Los Blancos are looking closer to the team which dominated Europe. Speaking of whom, ‘Zizou’ had this to say with respect to the prospect of drawing the reigning champions of Europe: “If we play Liverpool, we will eliminate them. We can’t do anything about the draw.”
Karim Benzema, particularly, is in strong form and the Frenchman would surely like to test himself against Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip in the new year.