Liverpool, the soon-to-be Premier League champions will travel to face Atlético, on a ground where they became Champions of Europe in the summer of 2019. Among all the headline draws in the Champions League, this tie is not seen as attractive as the PSG vs Dortmund or Bayern Munich vs Chelsea or Real Madrid vs Manchester City but, this tie has the potential to produce the most intense games. In this article, we will discuss the strategies of both teams, possible weak spots that the opposition may target and we will analyze why Atlético should not be underestimated.
Key Questions for the game
Will the positioning of Liverpool’s fullbacks be as high as usual or will Jürgen Klopp instruct one fullback to get forward and the other to be more conservative?
Atlético’s main threat from open play will be their speed on transitions, they could target the space that Alexander Arnold or Robertson may leave. Atlético play in their usual 4-4-2, they can instruct their wide midfielders (Saul and Koke) to track Liverpool’s most creative players and try to break from the wide channels.
What type of pressing will be used by both teams?.
Despite all the struggles of Atlético this season (only 10 wins in 23 la Liga games) they still like to apply pressure on opposition defenses, especially against possession dominate teams, predominantly in the first 20 minutes before falling in a mid-block. The home team will leave the ball to Liverpool and they will react to certain pressing triggers such as when the European Champions move the ball to the fullbacks or a loose touch in midfield. Another interesting aspect will be to see how much Liverpool press or if Atlético will even play out from the back.
Why Atlético should not be written off
Liverpool are the clear favourites here but this tie will not be easy for them. One of the most famous sayings in the boxing world is “Styles make fights”. As far as styles are concerned, these two sides are seen as the complete opposite – which is true to an extent – but both teams have some similarities as well. Both are dangerous from counter-attacks and set pieces. To use another boxing reference, Floyd Mayweather, the undefeated boxing legend famously once said “Some people you love, some people you hate. That’s what sells tickets”, and this is a must-watch tie for all football fans. Liverpool are fun to watch, Atlético are not, Liverpool (61) have scored goals for fun in the league but Atlético (23 goals in 23 La Liga games) have struggled massively in attack, Liverpool have a chance to win five trophies this season while Atletico are searching for their identity. This is what makes this tie so intriguing and here is the point where Atlético will be at their most dangerous.
Liverpool are widely respected for their attention to detail, analytical skills as well as the character of their players and coach, so they will not make the mistake of underestimating Diego Simeone’s side, because if they do, a very rude awakening awaits them. Atlético came from behind to beat Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup semifinal, even though Barcelona were top of La Liga and leading 2-1 going into the last 10 minutes. Furthermore, Atlético won 2-0 against Juventus in the last 16 of Champions League last season when no one gave them a chance.
Juventus were on their way to winning the league comfortably and were considered favorites for the Champions League (just like Liverpool this season) but Simeone’s Atlético found a way to win at home. Of course, they blew it in Turin but if Liverpool end up losing the first leg – especially without scoring an away goal- then Atlético will take the lessons from last season and back their reliable defense to get the job done.
The Henderson factor
After the departure of club legends F.Luis and Juanfran from Atlético Madrid, they brought in fullbacks who will offer a lot more creativity and forward runs in attack. K.Tripper and R Lodi were brought in. The return of Croatian S.Vrsaljko has pushed Tripper out of the starting 11 – at least in La Liga games- but Lodi is still bombing forwards from left-back and this is where Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson will be massive. Normally the manager will tell his right-winger to track the opposition’s attacking left-back but M.Salah is often excused from defensive duties and it is Henderson who supports the Liverpool right-back in defense.
Atlético are a crossing team and expect Jürgen Klopp to instruct Henderson to do a lot of defensive running to make sure that Lodi does not put a lot of crosses or create wide overloads.
In a game where both teams have an established formation and method of playing, things can get congested and predictable. Runs from midfield will be absolutely vital for both teams. Atlético play a 4-4-2, so the likes of Saul Niguez and captain Koke will be required to support the forwards by offering creativity or runs into the box. We all remember what Gini Wijnaldum’s runs did to FC Barcelona in last season’s Champions League. I’ll go even as far as to say that there will at least be one goal scored in this game from a late run from midfield.
Expected lineups and formations for both teams
Atlético Madrid (4-4-2) – Oblak; Vrsaljko, Savic, Hermoso, Lodi; Koke, Partey, Llorente, Saul; Correa, Vitolo.
Liverpool (4-3-3) – Alisson; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Prediction: 1-1 Draw or a hard-fought 2-1 win for Liverpool.
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