The Reds were drawn against Atletico Madrid in this morning’s Champions League draw, which has resulted in a range of reactions from the various corners of the online community. Ultimately, of course, Jürgen Klopp has never lost a two-legged European encounter at since taking over as Reds boss, so there are many people who think that we have nothing to fear from the draw. Yet at the same time there’s no doubt that our chief priority in the 2019-2020 season is the Premier League title. Our win over Watford on Saturday might not have been all that pretty, but it was efficient enough to mean that we’ve got a little bit of leeway available as Leicester City and Manchester City go head-to-head at the weekend. The perfect result there, in my opinion at least, would be a draw. That would mean that we’d be nine clear of the Foxes and thirteen away from Pep Guardiola’s side with a game in hand on both of them.
99 – Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 99 Premier League home games when leading at half-time (W90 D9), since 1-2 defeat to Arsenal in December 2009. Assured. pic.twitter.com/qtJlDzbNSc
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 14, 2019
The title isn’t done. Anyone who says it is either hasn’t watched Liverpool much during the Premier League era or is simply trying to tempt fate and screw us over. A loss to Leicester when we return from Qatar would mean that City would be eight points behind us if they also manage to beat the Foxes whilst we’re away and Wolves when we play Brendan Rodgers’ team, allowing them to move within five of us when we play them at the Etihad. Yes, we’ll have a game in hand but might scoreboard pressure start to tell as the season progresses? City have experience of winning every game they need to as the campaign heads towards its climax, whereas we don’t always do brilliantly when the new year comes into focus. There’s an extent to which this is me crying it in, of course, and our performance against Watford showed we know how to win when not playing well. But what does the Champions League draw suggest for the Reds?
It’s Probably The Toughest Draw
It’s not the draw any of us wanted. If you were hoping for Atletico Madrid to come out of the pot then you’re a sadist. Diego Simeone has got his team drilled within an inch of its life, which is the sort of thing that Liverpool have struggled with in the past against lesser sides. Imagine Burnley on steroids and you’ve got some idea of what to expect from Real’s less successful city sibling. Having said that, Altetico aren’t in the best of shape this season. They currently sit in fifth in La Liga, six points of the league leaders Barcelona who have a game in hand on them. They’ve lost twice and drawn eight times, which is more than they’ve managed to win. One loss came to Barca and the other was to Real Sociedad, who they’re right next to in the table just at the moment. They’re perhaps not the fearsome side that they’ve been in the past, but they’re still not going to be fun to play.
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) December 16, 2019
Maybe the better thing to do is to look at their Champions League performances of late. They were knocked out by Juventus at this stage last year, having qualified easily from a group containing Monaco, Club Brugge and Borussia Dortmund. This year they had Juve in the group stage alongside Lokomotiv Moscow and Bayer Leverkusen, qualifying in spite of losses to the Italians and Leverkusen as well as a draw with Juventus to boot. In other words, they’ve had a mixed start to the season so far. Even so, they were the team I most wanted to avoid from the draw because I think Simeone is a brilliant manager that knows exactly how to get his team in the sort of shape that will cause us problems. Hopefully by February we’ll have started to come out of the funk that seems to take over us every January, where we drop needless points and struggle to have the same dominance as during the rest of the season.
Everyone Will Have Wanted To Avoid Us
If the first section of this piece was about identifying Atletico Madrid’s strengths then this part is all about acknowledging our own. There is no team in European football that will have wanted to draw us this morning. Yes, Zinedine Zidane was giving it the Big I Am last week, saying that actively wanted us, but the team Atletico Madrid will be facing in February is an entirely different proposition to the one that Real Madrid defeated in Kiev back in 2018. This is a side with a new sense of steel and a belief in its own ability. We’re the defending European champions and sit ten points clear at the top of the Premier League, so it’s entirely fair to suggest that Jürgen Klopp will know how to set his side up to cause Atletico more problems than they can cause us. The Wanda Metropolitano might be their home, but it’s not as if our lads don’t have fond memories of their experience there.
Wanda Metropolitano? Completed it mate pic.twitter.com/8nlFh5kLDu
— El_Señor_Dÿlâń 🇮🇲 (@Nxby8) December 16, 2019
Simeone knows how to set his team up to be hard to beat, which is why Napoli were so successful against us. They were happy to soak up the pressure, ride their luck a little bit and hit us on the counter, which is what Atletico will try to do too. Klopp and his backroom team have had plenty of practice at dealing with that lately, given it’s how pretty much every team apart from City set up against us, but putting it into practice on the biggest stage of all will be a different proposition. That being said, most if not all of the players that are currently out with injuries should be back by then, so it’s not as if he’ll be struggling for squad options. If we’re also able to add Takumi Minamino to the side, as seems likely, then the manager will have even more choices for how to break down a stubborn defence. Whatever happens, it looks like it’s going to be a thrilling round of sixteen.