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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Atlético Madrid, 04.29.10

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Atlético come to town for the second leg with a 1-0 lead.

First, the Jonjo Shelvey deal has been confirmed by all parties involved, with Charlton receiving £1.7m initially for the 18 year-old. As I mentioned yesterday, it's a clear statement from the club regarding their intent for the youth structure. Don't believe me? Fine. Here's Christian Purslow with a clear statement from the club regarding their intent for the youth structure (via the above link):

"Jonjo is an exciting young England international. His signing is part of our long-term strategic recruitment plan and we all look forward to welcoming him to Melwood."

Told you. The deal will go through on May 10th, which is slightly surprising given the fact that Charlton are currently in fifth place in League One and are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs...that don't start until May 14th. Not sure if that's a product of the agreement between the clubs, but it's slightly puzzling that they'd let him go before they take their run at promotion to the Championship. Either way, he's Liverpool-bound, and it's hopefully another important addition for the future.

And now it's down to business on the pitch. Aside from the sparkling play of Pepe Reina, Liverpool fans will have to hope that there's few similarities across the two legs of this tie. A week ago we watched ninety-plus minutes of a suffocating psychodrama that saw Diego Forlan's ninth minute match-winner separate the two sides. And again, aside from Pepe Reina, there's literally nothing worth drawing upon from the first leg. Mostly mediocre with a couple of light flashes from the quasi-usual characters. But as bad as it seemed at times, Liverpool likely should have come out of it with the away goal when Yossi Benayoun was judged to be offside and his goal was waved off.

Everything that's worth remembering about last week's match doesn't come from last week's match---it comes from the fact that in the second knockout round against Lille and the quarterfinals against Benfica, Liverpool trailed by a goal after the first leg. And while those first leg performances were slightly different from last week's at the Vicente Calderon, Liverpool find themselves in very familiar territory. In front of their home supporters, needing at least a goal to extend the tie and more than one to win.

But it won't be entirely the same thing. Atlético will be boosted by the return of Kun Aguero, who missed out on the first leg serving a one-game ban. He would have likely changed the complexion of the Atlético attack in the first match, and with Liverpool needing to press to find the equalizer, his pace and skill on the ball will be a major threat. And it'll be the same story with the other major players on the Atlético front end---both Forlan and Simao made their impact known, and both will again cause some questions in Liverpool's defense.

For all their attacking talent, though, it was maybe the Atlético defense that defined the match. Luis Perea proved to be an absolute nightmare for an overmatched David Ngog, and the Atlético back line swallowed up any sort of forward movement Liverpool could muster. It's telling when David de Gea, the impressive 19 year-old Atlético goalkeeper, makes it through an entire match without having to make a save. Incidentally, de Gea, along with midfielder Raul Garcia, has made note of the pressure that a trip to Anfield carries with it and expects things to be quite a bit different come tomorrow night. Let's hope so.

As for who will be trying to make tomorrow night a different affair, the jury's still out. We know the injuries in defense make the back line an easy pick---even with Daniel Ayala in the starting eleven at Burnley, it's hard to see Rafa going with his inexperience ahead of the salty perseverance and indomitable will of the Greek.

There's obviously much more to it, as usual, moving into the midfield and attack. Recent history suggests Lucas will displace Alberto Aquilani in midfield, but recent statements from Rafa also suggest that his confidence in the Italian is growing. And given Liverpool's need to be a bit less flatlined than they were in last week's meeting, his presence isn't completely out of the question. We know Maxi is cup-tied, and the injury concerns up front haven't gotten any clearer--still no confirmation on the potential availability of David Ngog and Dirk Kuyt. Worst case scenario, it's a patchwork front four of Ryan Babel, Steven Gerrard, Yossi Benayoun, and Alberto Aquilani, with Lucas and Masch still partnering in midfield. It's never easy with Liverpool this season, is it?

But the implications of tomorrow couldn't be any clearer---win or go home. Okay, it gets more complicated if Atlético score and we start talking about away goals, but work with me here. The bottom line is that Liverpool have a chance to play in a European Cup Final despite having a season that would otherwise (and likely still will) be classified as a train wreck, and as a fan, there's something inspiring about that.