Liverpool still wary but no longer fear Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid before Champions League tie

And so, 262 days later, Liverpool return to the stage that didn’t start it all, but certainly cemented what they are capable of.

The first trophy of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure was secured at the Wanda Metropolitano as the club secured a sixth European Cup at Tottenham’s expense in June. Getting over the line, crossing the thin but titanic distinction between almost winning and actually doing so, removed the ceiling as to what players believed was possible.

That is reflected in the obvious swagger and certainty they have displayed since lifting the Champions League, with their wall of honours at Melwood already requiring two more alterations after that victory – another Super Cup and the addition of the Club World Cup – with the silhouette of the Premier League trophy soon to follow.

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As they line up against Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the last-16 tussle on Tuesday night, England’s pacesetters – a staggering 25 points clear domestically – have the opportunity to remind the continent that they remain the team to beat in this tournament.

In the previous two seasons, the prospect of encountering Diego Simeone, a master of the defensive arts, used to be a source of consternation for Liverpool. It was the preference to face a more enterprising opponent who could be marmalised by their rapid transitions. Ahead of the knockout draws, Atleti were marked as a team to hopefully avoid within Melwood.

While Liverpool still feel the La Liga side are a formidable unit and respect their ability to defy the odds on the biggest nights in this competition, the usual sense of dread has been replaced by conviction in their habit of finding solutions to every tactical conundrum.


Champions League round-of-16 clubs





1/17 Champions League Round of 16 clubs

2/17 Paris Saint-Germain

3/17 Real Madrid

4/17 Bayern Munich

5/17 Tottenham Hotspur

6/17 Manchester City

7/17 Atalanta

8/17 Juventus

9/17 Atletico Madrid

10/17 Liverpool

11/17 Napoli

12/17 Barcelona

13/17 Borussia Dortmund

14/17 RB Leipzig

15/17 Lyon

16/17 Valencia

17/17 Chelsea

1/17 Champions League Round of 16 clubs

2/17 Paris Saint-Germain

3/17 Real Madrid

4/17 Bayern Munich

5/17 Tottenham Hotspur

6/17 Manchester City

7/17 Atalanta

8/17 Juventus

9/17 Atletico Madrid

10/17 Liverpool

11/17 Napoli

12/17 Barcelona

13/17 Borussia Dortmund

14/17 RB Leipzig

15/17 Lyon

16/17 Valencia

17/17 Chelsea

“If there’s one team where you have to be at absolute best, it’s Atletico,” Klopp said. “They give you absolutely no presents. They are a clear, proper machine. Whatever happens, they are there. They close you down and counter-attack. If you are not focused on your attacking, you won’t have a shot on target. But they haven’t played against a team like us. We shouldn’t forget that. We are organised as well, we play football, we have different aspects of [our] game.”

Klopp’s men have long shed their need to blitz the opposition, but their varied ways to win has been emphasised this season. As Simeone himself put it: “I have no doubt, this Liverpool will go down in history as a great team. It is different to teams we have admired. They are intense, they are adaptable.”

Liverpool have kept 10 clean sheets in their last 11 league games, conceding a solitary goal in a sequence that saw tests against Manchester United, Leicester, Tottenham, Wolves and Sheffield United.

In all competitions, they have recorded victory by a 1-0 scoreline seven times. The Merseysiders are masters of scoring at crucial junctures: 14 of their goals have come in the opening 15 minutes, 19 leading into half-time and 18 between the 76 to 90 mark.

For all the deserved credit to Simeone and Atleti for their historical defensive brilliance, Liverpool’s work without the ball has been phenomenal.

The Spaniards used to count on Diego Godin – now at Inter Milan – nullifying threats from set-pieces, but Virgil van Dijk is now the best centre-back in the game. Jan Oblak was seen as the benchmark for goalkeepers, but he has been susceptible from dead-ball situations this campaign and that status was claimed by Alisson last year. Thomas Partey, Atleti’s standout player, was on Liverpool’s shortlist for holding midfield which Fabinho topped last summer and while the Ghana international is superb, the Brazilian was supreme prior to injury.

Atleti, by Simeone’s own admission, are not what they used to be. “We have different players now with different characteristics,” he said when asked by The Independent to explain the new set-piece weakness – one of Liverpool’s great weapons. “Just like we now attack in a different way, we defend in a different way too.”

The back-to-back finalists have changed too. They have gotten sharper and more assured in every department, regardless of personnel. Klopp has remarkably not yet been able to field the XI that started in the Champions League final due to injuries and yet Liverpool roll on, rolling over everything in their way. They are winners.

The Wanda Metropolitano was the backdrop for earning that tag, and it could also represent another scene in this series of Being Liverpool, where total dominance is not beyond this relentless group.

“We don’t feel like the winner of last season’s Champions League, we are one of the contenders for this year,” Klopp said. “We want to be in Istanbul.”

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