Liverpool v Atletico Madrid
Live on BT Sport 2
Reds’ focus has been narrowed
When Liverpool lost the first leg in Madrid, Jurgen Klopp’s men were still in the FA Cup and unbeaten in the Premier League.
The loss to Atleti sparked a run of three defeats in four matches which included an FA Cup exit at Chelsea following a 3-0 humbling at Watford to ruin any hopes of matching Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’.
Just how long would this wobble go on? When Bournemouth took the lead at Anfield on Saturday, some Reds fans started entertaining very dark thoughts but by the end of the weekend it was a very different picture.
Liverpool hit back to beat Bournemouth 2-1 and then Manchester City lost 2-0 at Old Trafford. From needing four wins to wrap the Premier League up, that had been halved to two.
Getting back to winning ways certainly lifts confidence again ahead of this return leg and, without doubt, the atmosphere for this evening kick-off in Europe will be ramped up from what it was in the 12.30pm game with Bournemouth.
Atleti tough to crack
The feeling that Atletico weren’t quite the beast of previous years was put to bed in the first leg when Saul Niguez’s early strike proved enough.
From that moment on, it was pretty much a Diego Simeone masterclass: a mix of superb organisation and tenacity sprinkled with some old-school dark arts to ensure that the visitors just couldn’t find a way back into the match.
Part I: mission accomplished.
Part II will be a whole different ball game although Liverpool can’t expect Atletico to be as brittle as Barcelona proved when the Reds famously overturned them 4-0.
Since beating Liverpool, Atletico have defeated Villarreal 3-1, drawn 1-1 at Espanyol and played out a 2-2 home draw with Sevilla.
They went behind in all three games but so showed plenty of fighting spirit to emerge unbeaten.
To Qualify market best option for Reds backers
Two relatively recent encounters between the pair at Anfield ended 1-1 (2008-9) and 2-1 to Liverpool (2009-10). Both results wouldn’t be enough for the Reds to go through and keep their grip on the trophy this time.
It’s also worth noting that Atletico have progressed from four of their previous five Champions League knockout ties when winning the first leg. That backs up the idea that they’re a dog with a bone when holding a lead.
However, in last season’s round of 16 against Juventus, they took a 2-0 lead to Turin and were overturned 3-0 and it’s easy to see Liverpool pulling off something similar.
The 90-minute market shows Liverpool at [1.6], Atletico Madrid at [7.2] and The Draw [4.1].
But it’s the ‘To Qualify’ market which takes my eye as Liverpool are odds-on.
Klopp’s record in 15 Champions League home games with the Reds is played Won 11, Drawn 4, Lost 0 while it’s a simple fact that Atleti are not as strong on the road as they’ve lost six of their last nine away Champions League knockout matches.
Perhaps the most compelling stat is that Klopp has never lost a two-legged tie in European competition since moving to Anfield. That brilliant record has seen him guide the Merseysiders to three finals (Europea League and 2 x Champions League).
The hosts have been somewhat slow to find rhythm after the Winter Break but it’s coming back and when adding in the combination of extra energy and adrenaline, backing Liverpool to Qualify at [2.1] makes sense.
Goals markets tough to call
I could very easily see this being a tight affair with Liverpool winning 2-0 or even 1-0 and going through in extra-time on penalties.
The market can see something similar and Under 2.5 goals is the favourite at [1.89].
But Over 2.5 at [2.06] has strong claims too.
One Atletico goal and Liverpool have to throw everything at the visitors in a bid to score three. They either get them or leave spaces at the back.
As for Both Teams to Score, ‘No’ is the favourite at [1.8] while ‘Yes’ is [2.06].
Liverpool have conceded in each of their last five games while the ‘Yes’ has landed in Atleti’s last four domestic matches.
Alisson’s absence in the Liverpool goal could sway ‘Yes’ backers although how much will Adrian actually have to do if Atletico come purely to defend and waste time?
Sadio Mane has 18 goals for the season, including two (the winner each time) in his last two starts at Anfield.
Adding in his double against Chelsea in the Super Cup, he’s netted four in Europe this season and has been a prolific scorer in the Champions League over the last three seasons.
He’s also the Liverpool player with the biggest ‘X’ factor in a game like this, the one most likely to come up with something unusual or inspirational to break down a stubborn defence.
Given all that, I like him at [2.48] to score.
Mo Salah is [2.32] while Alex Oxlade Chamberlin is the other home player of interest at [4.6].
On each of the last two occasions Liverpool have lost away from home in the first leg of a Champions League knockout match, they have progressed to the next round; the Reds eliminated Chelsea and Barcelona in the semi-finals in 2006-07 and 2018-19.