Atletico Madrid head to Anfield for the Champions League last 16 second leg on Wednesday and were held to a tough home draw against rivals Sevilla on Saturday.
Diego Simeone’s team hold a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, but since then they—like Liverpool—have faced domestic challenges in terms of their form.
Atleti beat Villarreal the weekend after the first meeting with the Reds three weeks ago, but followed that up with a disappointing 1-1 draw against bottom-of-the-table Espanyol.
It left them outside the top four and the Champions League places in LaLiga, meaning this weekend’s home clash with Sevilla—who were third heading into the match—took on enormous significance.
They failed to pick up the win they needed, though, despite leading at one stage, with the game ending 2-2.
It means they failed to gain any further ground on the top four, with Getafe also drawing against Celta Vigo, placing even more emphasis on the last-16 tie at Anfield from their perspective of having elite European football to look forward to next season.
Sevilla opened the scoring early on with a sweeping move down the right channel which pulled Atleti’s defence out of shape, with Luuk de Jong eventually turning inside his man and finishing cooly from inside the box.
It was the sort of well-worked opening and clear sight of goal which Liverpool failed to create in the first leg at all, and was perhaps an insight as to the tempo of play which will be required at Anfield.
VAR then took centre stage, with both teams awarded a penalty before the break. Alvaro Morata scored Atletico’s, then a counter-attack down the left side score Joao Felix score a deflected strike to put the home side ahead.
Lucas Ocampos then won a spot-kick for Sevilla after a rash tackle in the box by fit-again Kieran Trippier, with Ocampos himself equalising from 12 yards.
Both teams had second-half chances to win the game, with the best falling to sub Yannick Carrasco, who blazed over from 10 yards.
The main points of note on a tactical level were regarding Atletico’s more adventurous outlook and the areas in which Sevilla got behind their back four.
Needing the points for the league position push, Atleti were a lot more adventurous and had a higher starting point against Sevilla than they did at any point against the Reds—and with a one-goal lead to protect, it’s probable they’ll revert to type at Anfield.
It shows the value of an early goal, so if the Reds are able to somehow find the right tempo from kick-off without leaving themselves exposed, it’s imperative they take advantage of openings.
Would get ready to see Giménez in Liverpool on Wednesday — that was wretched defending by Savi?, who scored an own goal last week too.
— Into the Calderón (@intothecalderon) March 7, 2020
Sevilla play a similar 4-3-3 to the Reds and here that was the case for an hour or so, and it was the wide forwards and left-back Sergio Reguilon in particular who fashioned the openings to pull Atleti apart.
Ocampos and Suso played quick, one-touch passes with either centre-mid or centre-forward team-mates, using pace and movement rather than individual ability to move Simeone’s men out of shape.
Stefan Savic was also culpable for a couple of chances and easily beaten for the opening goal—a potential weak point for Liverpool to look to exploit.
Regarding team news, los rojiblancos were boosted by a 79-minute run-out from Felix and a good showing in midfield from Koke.
There will be at least a couple of alterations to Atleti’s lineup come midweek though, with Thomas Partey sure to return after being suspended here and Renan Lodi missing out against Sevilla after a minor knock during the week. Trippier also ended the match limping, though possibly just from cramp.
Both players coming back in can be expected at Anfield, with Simeone’s big calls coming with who plays the fourth midfield role and whether Morata and Felix both start in attack or whether an extra central player is called for.
Atletico XI vs. Sevilla: Oblak; Trippier, Savic, Felipe, Hermoso (Carrasco); Correa, Saul, Llorente, Koke; Felix (Vitolo), Morata (Costa)