Atlético Madrid vs Liverpool
| Tuesday, February 18th |
Champions League | Wanda Metropolitano Stadium
8PM BST / 3PM EST
The Champions League is back, and, as has again been customary in recent years, Liverpool are in the knockout stages. Like last year, they only qualified from the group stages on the final day, courtesy of an away win at RB Salzburg, but then again, last year didn’t end too shabbily for the Reds.
Awaiting them in the round of 16 are Atlético Madrid. It’s been a decade since the two sides have met in official competition, although this will not be Liverpool’s first trip to the shiny new Wanda Metropolitano, having collected their sixth European Cup there less than nine months ago.
Diego Simeone’s men aren’t doing too hot in La Liga, hanging onto their fourth place by virtue of goal difference only, and although they continue to put up the best defensive numbers in the league, the loss of supremely talented defensive triumvirate Rodri, Diego Godín and Lucas Hernández means that they have had to arrive at those numbers playing an even more conservative style than has been the case in recent years.
With striking partners Alvaro Morata and João Félix both going on historically bad finishing runs — underperforming their expected goals by 44% and 58%, respectively — the team have averaged just a single goal scored per game, it all adds up to a rough year for los rojiblancos, and one that could see them out of the Champions League entirely next season.
Atléti remain a talented side, and one that is exceptionally difficult to break down, or play particularly entertaining football against, but they are not quite the immovable object they presented a few years ago.
Projected Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3)
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mané, Firmino, Salah
In entirely unsurprising news, the Reds won again at the weekend — with substitute Sadio Mané the hero — taking their Premier League lead to an historic and unassailable 25 points. The players and staff will undoubtedly be keeping their feet on the ground and their eyes firmly on the challenge that awaits tomorrow night, however, and look to take a positive result with them back to Liverpool.
Coming off a full week’s rest and recovery — and two weeks between match action — Jürgen Klopp now boasts as close to a full squad as he has all season, with Xherdan Shaqiri and Nathaniel Clyne the only players missing out through injury. The first choice defensive line should be in place, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson flanking Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk.
Jordan Henderson was the only midfielder to play the full 90 minutes at the weekend, and could be rested, but Klopp is unlikely to forego his talisman in such a crucial fixture, and it is more probable we will see the captain alongside two of Fabinho, Georginio Wijnaldum, Naby Keïta, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, depending on how aggressively the manager wishes to approach the game.
The front three will be restored to its full powers from the start on Tuesday, with Mané joining Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, and with the latter in particular hungry to get on the scoresheet, having failed to do so in the Champions League so far this season.
What the Managers Said
Jürgen Klopp: “It will be a tough game. Two teams who are used to playing intense football, different styles and slightly different organisation of course, but both are ready for intensity, and that makes it pretty tough for both.”
The Officials (POL)
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
Assistant referees: Paweł Sokolnicki, Tomasz Listkiewicz
Fourth official: Tomasz Musiał
VAR: Pawel Gil, Tomasz Kwiatkowski
Kickoff is set for 8PM GMT/3PM EST tomorrow, and television listings for the match can be found on LiveSoccerTV.
In the meantime, and as always, we’ll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it’s released, our live matchday thread, and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on the action as it happens.