Liverpool welcome Atletico Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie tonight. The Spanish side won the first leg 1-0, largely due to a Diego Simeone masterclass. Liverpool now face a tough task ahead of them if they want to qualify for the next round, but it is entirely possible.
Liverpool Prepare Champions League Comeback at Anfield
Tactical Masterclass From Atleti
Diego Simeone set up Atletico completely defensively. Even for their goal from a corner, only four Los Rojiblancos players were in the box, guarded by all eleven Liverpool players. Four other Atleti players formed a safety net right outside the box to stop the counter, while everyone else stayed back.
Atletico were even more defensive after their goal and didn’t even allow Liverpool to put a single shot on goal. The three times runners up will probably pack the box at Anfield, just trying to hang on to their lead. A 1-0 win from Liverpool would force penalties, which could also be a favourable outcome for the Madrid side.
The entire match, Simeone was redirecting and giving instructions to his players, denying Liverpool any threatening space. He also spent a lot of time electrifying the club at the Wanda Metropolitano. Simeone will not have this home advantage in the second leg, and the crowd at Anfield will also play a big role in the game.
During the game, it was clear to see that Atletico were perfectly happy with their one-goal lead, and would allow Liverpool to keep possession. Liverpool had 73% possession throughout the game, but not much of it was useful. Atletico kept their defensive shape in all areas of the field, keeping the Premier League leaders at bay.
An Unlucky Night for Liverpool
While credit is due to Simeone’s tactical masterclass, Liverpool weren’t exactly playing at their best. They couldn’t seem to find the final killer pass, which will have to change if the Reds have any hope of advancing. Liverpool’s final ball was so poor. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson just couldn’t deliver in situations normal for them. Many other players also had an off night.
The front three looked sluggish, crosses by Alexander-Arnold was not up to his normal quality and Virgil van Dijk looked awkward. Arnold’s deliveries were very disappointing a couple even going over the goal and out of play. On free kicks and corners, he also failed to find his mark.
Atletico also got quite lucky by scoring their goal early, and that is what allowed them to sit back for the rest of the match.
Liverpool’s unconvincing performance in the first leg can be largely be attributed to the absence of Jordan Henderson. In recent weeks, Liverpool have not looked the same with their captain missing. His leadership and play is really the glue that holds Liverpool together. Without him, they have lost to Watford and Chelsea, showing his value. Luckily, Henderson will be back in the second leg, and will hopefully transform Liverpool back into their former self.
However, the Reds have picked up yet another crushing injury going into the second leg. Alisson will be out with a muscle injury, and Adrian will have to step up for the game. Adrian is usually a solid keeper for Liverpool; he held is own at the beginning of the season when Alisson was injured, but just last week he let up a howler against Chelsea, spilling the ball and putting Liverpool behind. Alisson is a crucial part of the squad, and having Adrian in goal just won’t be the same.
On the other hand, Atletico set up very defensively in the first leg, and will probably carry this same tactic into the second. This would put less stress on Adrian, making Alisson’s absence not as noticeable. Also, Liverpool can still perform with key players injured. In last season’s Champions League comeback against Barcelona, the Reds were without star players Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino.
Alisson will be greatly missed, but Adrian, although sometimes inconsistent, is still a solid keeper and should be able to step up for the game, especially if Atletico set up defensively. Having their captain back, Liverpool will be greatly strengthened in all areas of the pitch. This game could still go either way.
The Second Leg
Liverpool have pulled off Champions League comebacks at Anfield before, and this one should be much easier than the three goals deficit they faced against Barcelona last season.
Atletico will try to shut out Liverpool once again, but this will be quite the task to keep a clean sheet for the full 90 minutes at Anfield. It is possible, but this leg has factors to make it go very differently than the first.
The atmosphere, especially on Champions League nights, is one of the best in the world. They will need the crowd to turn up for the next game, but there is little doubt about this, as they have always turned up when the Reds are in need. This is shown in the stat that Liverpool’s unbeaten run in Europe at Anfield stretches back to 2014.
The Reds may have failed to get a single shot on target in the first leg but with their home supporters behind them and the players playing at their normal levels, the story at Anfield will be very different.