The Champions League’s round of 16 fixtures nearly always promise excitement and drama, and this week has already sprung a surprise on the football world, as Atletico Madrid – whose form has been patchy at best this season – were able to pull out a tremendous performance and defeat Premier League leaders and Champions League holders Liverpool 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.
After the match, Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson suggested Atletico’s players and manager Diego Simeone “celebrated as if they’d already won the tie”, but while their 1-0 lead gives them an advantage going into the second leg, there’s every chance that Jurgen Klopp’s men will overturn it and advance into the quarter-finals.
Here are 3 reasons why Liverpool can still beat Atletico Madrid and advance in the Champions League.
#1 History could repeat itself
Atletico Madrid and their fans might’ve been ecstatic about this week’s result, and indeed, it was a tremendous performance with practically their entire squad rising to the occasion to completely shut down Liverpool’s effervescent style. But in the back of their minds, they must be thinking of this time last year – when practically the same thing happened during their round of 16 tie with Juventus.
That tie saw Diego Simeone’s side pull off another masterclass in stifling, defensive football with an edge during the first leg, as they defeated the Italian giants 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano with late goals from central defenders Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez. And like this week’s match with Liverpool, The Old Lady were completely neutralised, reduced to just 2 shots on target despite boasting the attacking talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.
Atletico’s formidable defensive reputation suggested that the tie was over, but that turned out not to be the case. In the second leg at the Allianz Stadium, Juve erased the Spanish side’s lead within 49 minutes, Ronaldo scoring a double, and in a one-sided game, it barely came as a surprise when the Portuguese superstar completed his hat-trick on 86 minute to dump Atletico out.
In the end, Juventus took 62% of possession and reduced Atletico to having no shots on target throughout the game. Can Liverpool be compared to Juventus? Not exactly; they’re completely different teams with different styles, but one link between them is that they’re great sides, and are capable of destroying any side on their day.
Essentially then, Atletico might’ve been happy with last night’s victory – but it’s no guarantee of winning the tie, and Simeone’s side have collapsed after such a lead before.
#2 Anfield is a fortress
Every top football team likes to imagine that their home ground has some kind of aura – usually a threatening one that unnerves any opponents that they play host to – but the truth is that it isn’t always the case. Huge grounds belonging to European giants – think Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium or Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium – often don’t have the best atmosphere, meaning it can be easier for away sides to do well there than it really ought to be.
The same cannot be said for Anfield, though. When Liverpool fans claim that their home ground offers a different kind of atmosphere, they’re not exaggerating. Simply put, Anfield is a fortress and with their incredibly passionate support, Reds fans make it a truly intimidating place for any visiting team, no matter how tough they are.
Just ask Barcelona, who took a 3-0 lead into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final tie with Jurgen Klopp’s side last season – and were subsequently dismantled 4-0 in one of the most stunning performances in European football history.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico might be a fearless, tough-as-nails side, but even they might find entering Anfield and getting a positive result tricky. So with a metaphorical 12th man on their side in the form of their fans, Liverpool cannot be counted out of this tie.
#3 Liverpool always score
Had Atletico won the first leg of their round of 16 tie with Liverpool 2-0 or even 3-0, then you’d have to suggest that Diego Simeone’s side might have one foot in the quarter-finals. But winning 1-0 just doesn’t feel like it’ll be enough, particularly against Jurgen Klopp’s free-scoring side. Prior to their loss to Atletico, the Reds had drawn a blank on just one other occasion in 2019-20 – away against Napoli in the group stages of the Champions League.
Even more incredible is their goalscoring record at Anfield. Klopp’s men have played at their home ground in 16 games across the Premier League and Champions League during the current campaign, and during that time they’ve scored less than 2 goals on just two occasions – their 1-1 draw with Napoli in November and their 1-0 win over Wolves in December.
Would a single away goal be enough for Atletico to win the tie? Perhaps, but then scoring 2 goals is also somewhat of a rarity for the Reds right now. Liverpool have scored 3 or more goals at Anfield in 6 of their 13 Premier League matches there this season, and altogether, they’ve hit 99 goals in their 43 competitive games in 2019-20, an unbelievable statistic by anyone’s standards.
Frankly, with amazing attacking talent such as Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane amongst Liverpool’s ranks, the likelihood of Atletico holding out as they did this week seems difficult to imagine. Against most European sides, Atletico’s 1-0 lead would feel safe, but against Klopp’s Liverpool? It’s anything but.