Liverpool were handed a fiendishly difficult assignment when the Champions League last 16 draw was made in Switzerland on Monday. Jurgen Klopp’s men will lock horns with an Atletico Madrid side that have built up a formidable reputation for their work rate, intensity and defensive solidity under Diego Simeone. It promises to be a fascinating tactical battle between two of Europe’s finest coaches, and Liverpool will need to be at their brilliant best in order to surge through the quarter-finals.
A Stern Examination
It is just seven months since Liverpool went to Wanda Metropolitano Stadium and overwhelmed Tottenham to win the Champions League. That made them the third most successful club in the history of Europe’s most prestigious competition, behind only Real Madrid and AC Milan, and it allowed them to banish the painful memories of their defeat in the previous final. Since then they have continued on an upward curve, picking up 16 wins and one draw from 17 Premier League games so far this season. They are now the overwhelming favourites to end a 30-year title drought, and they can afford to dedicate a considerable amount of energy to defend their Champions League crown.
On February 18, they will return to the scene of that famous victory over Spurs and attempt to beat Atletico Madrid in their own backyard. It will be a stern test of their mettle. Simeone’s men have lost just once at home all season and they are always exceptionally difficult to break down. Their form has been shaky over the past few weeks, but they have missed first-choice centre-backs Jose Gimenez and Stefan Savic, who have been out injured. Both men should be back well in time for the game against Liverpool, and the Reds will need to overcome a fantastic side.
The Fear Factor
Some Liverpool fans reacted to the draw with alarm. Atletico Madrid are certainly a well-drilled, highly organized side that will be tough to break down. However, Atletico fans will surely be even more fearful at the prospect of facing the Reds. Liverpool went all the way to the Champions League final in 2018 and they only lost 3-1 to Real Madrid because inexperienced goalkeeper Loris Karius committed a pair of howlers. They have been virtually invincible ever since they replaced him with Alisson in the summer of 2018.
They beat Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield en route to a second consecutive Champions League final last term and then swept Spurs aside in the final. Their form in the Premier League this season has been outrageous, and they were surely the last team that anyone wanted to be drawn against in the last 16.
That sentiment is borne out in the Champions League markets at leading odds comparison sites like Sportsbook Review. Liverpool may be the away team in the first leg, but they are 6/4 favorites to pick up another victory at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. The Reds are also 2/5 favourites to qualify for the next round at Atletico Madrid’s expense, whereas Simeone’s side are the 9/4 underdogs.
Atletico Madrid suffered a blow in the summer when Antoine Griezmann forced through a move to Barcelona. They reacted by splashing out on wunderkind Joao Felix, but he is not as complete a forward as Griezmann right now. Alvaro Morata has been inconsistent and Diego Costa is beset by injuries, so Atletico has only managed to win seven of their 17 league games so far this season. That does not compare favourably with Liverpool winning 16 of 17 in a ferociously competitive Premier League. Atletico Madrid has also struggled to keep clean sheets and they will be in real trouble in Gimenez does not declare himself fit for the game.
It is easy to see why Liverpool are the favourites with SBR’s top bookmakers to win this game. They have been exceptional at the back during the past two seasons and an attacking triumvirate featuring Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino is outrageously devastating. Atletico arguably has the edge in midfield, but Liverpool looks stronger down the flanks and better in the attack. It will be a close and fascinating contest, but the Reds should triumph if they play to their full potential.