When the Champions League last 16 draw took place on Monday, Liverpool fans mostly seemed nonchalant about who we drew. After all, we’re the reigning holders and comfortably top of the Premier League so what was there to fear? Drawing Atalanta or Lyon would seemingly mark a straightforward, fresh tie with little travel, Borussia Dortmund would be a emotional reunion for Klopp, and of course, getting Real Madrid would give us the opportunity to rectify and get revenge for Kiev.
Despite that though, there was one side almost everyone was keen to avoid: Atletico Madrid. Not only are they an established European outfit with real pedigree, but Diego Simeone’s dogmatic, defensive style of play seemed the perfect foil to our style.
Of course, it was Atletico we ended up getting in the draw and a return to the Wanda Metropolitano awaits. While our last visit there gave us all one of the greatest nights of our lives, many already seem apprehensive if our second outing will be a similar affair.
So, should we fear Atletico Madrid, or should we head to the Spanish capital with a sense of confidence?
Firstly, there is no disputing that Atletico are a tough side to compete against. Their playstyle adopted by Simeone involves sitting deep and counterattacking, which can be especially difficult to breakdown. From this perspective, they’re built in a similar ilk to Napoli, who Liverpool notoriously struggled against in the group stages, losing in Naples and only drawing at Anfield; this could suggest Atletico could pose similar problems.
Defensively, they’re incredibly solid as well. Not only have they managed to keep 12 clean sheets this season, but have the best defensive record in La Liga having only shipped 10 goals in total. With the return of Jose Gimenez from injury, this defensive solidarity could be set to increase even more, which would certainly spell trouble for the Reds.
However, even with their defensive approach and only having lost 2 games domestically all season, Los Rojiblancos have really struggled up the other end of the pitch. They’ve only managed to score 16 goals in La Liga this term, which is behind the likes of Osasuna, Granada and Levante; Antoine Griezmann’s highly publicised switch to Barcelona is undeniably a factor for this and the Frenchman’s exit gives Liverpool one less problem to contend with.
This lack of potency in front of goal has seen Atletico draw 8 games this season and sees them languishing in 5th place and currently outside the Champions League spots. While it is unthinkable that Simeone’s outfit will fail to qualify for Europe’s elite competition next season, they are clearly not the side they were a few seasons ago.
It is undisputable that Liverpool will need to be cautious at the Wanda Metropolitano. Atletico are likely to sit deep and wait for an opportunity to counter, while their rugged, frustrating style may cause a few problems; £113m summer arrival Joao Felix will be desperate to prove himself on the big stage as well. Jan Oblak, who many may argue is the best goalkeeper in the world, will also cause issues and is bound to infuriate the Liverpool front three.
Having said that, Klopp has installed a sense of confidence in this side and there should be little reason to fear. Not only is our record in European knockout games under Klopp impeccable, but Atletico have dipped since the side that made two Champions League finals earlier this decade.
And, the final is held in Istanbul. That means it’s meant to be.