Liverpool v Atlético Madrid: Noise and nous required again in Anfield second-leg

James Noble takes a look at how Liverpool can overturn a first-leg deficit and beat Diego Simeone’s streetwise Atlético Madrid side.

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The Reds renew Champions League acquaintances with Diego Simeone’s side in L4 for the Round of 16 return on Wednesday night, with Jürgen Klopp’s men looking to overturn the 1-0 aggregate lead earned by Saúl Ñíguez’s early strike for the Spaniards in Madrid three weeks ago.

It can all be part of the fun. When the margins are fine, the stakes are high and the focus as intense as the floodlights glow.

It can certainly bring the best out of many of those who will be hoping to shine in the Merseyside decider.

Klopp and Simeone should feel very much in their element, for starters. They’ll be about as close to the stands as they are to the touchline, in moments.

Those on the pitch will be looking to harness the energy coming from the stands, the touchline and beyond, before providing some of their own. The potential value of every single individual within the ground’s confines should never be underestimated on such evenings.

Who will be there is, of course, generally a pertinent question. It’s no different this time.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker remains sidelined with the muscle issue sustained in training last week. Captain Jordan Henderson has made good progress and looks to be in contention, having returned to full training on Sunday. Andy Robertson, meanwhile, should be back after being left out of Saturday’s 2-1 win over Bournemouth as a precaution. Xherdan Shaqiri and Nathaniel Clyne remain on the Reds’ injury list.


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Atlético have a more fully fit squad at their disposal now than they did in the first-leg. Kieran Trippier and record signing João Félix have since recovered from knocks and could start. Héctor Herrera has also been in the treatment room recently but could well now be in line for at least a spot on the bench. Thomas Lemar is their one doubt, due to a thigh issue.

Atmosphere, tactics and temperament look more than capable of all playing a significant, potentially combined, role.

Anfield has the opportunity and the capability to set the tone — the mood music — once again. Before, during and even after the game it can play its part.

Those on all four sides of the ground normally jump, sing and roar at any given chance. Tonight’s match provides another one.

The extent and way in which it can impact upon the game is inevitably intangible but that extra push, that extra tempo-setter, that extra source of positive chaos, even, can represent another of those marginal gains Klopp so values.

Emotions can, of course, be utilised on nights like these. Which simultaneously makes channelling and controlling them when required all the more valuable.

Gamesmanship. Nous. The creative licence that surrounds football’s laws. However you want to phrase it, there’ll likely be some of it on show. Quite possibly from both sides, depending on elements of the context as the contest progresses.

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It’s not great. We can’t pretend its presence in football’s premier club competition — or on the pitch, full-stop — is positive. We generally know what it looks like, and football’s rules at present give it just enough room to make its mark. Given the prospect of helping their team towards a target, if given an inch, footballers are generally going to look to take the yard.

The key so often appears to be in the response to it. It feels like something that’s more usefully viewed as a distraction, an offshoot off the game, rather than something to get emotionally bogged down in.

It was there in the first-leg, primarily from Atlético, with Los Rojiblancos having a lead to protect from the fourth minute. They defended it with strength, discipline, determination and a notable dash of savviness.

It’s hardly the case that they’re the only team to apply this familiar range of approaches. Stronger stamping down would admittedly decrease the unwelcome leeway.

That was something that looked to be required at the Wanda Metropolitano that night, but it could also be seen as a requirement for the European game in general.

Either way, they wanted a first-leg advantage badly and they worked and worked to get it. That, in itself, was something to admire and has proven one of the most consistent traits in Simeone’s time at the club.

Overcoming Atlético and, chiefly, their defensive stubbornness, can represent quite the challenge. It’s the kind of question the Champions League tends to enticingly ask.

Intensity, persistence and patience will be high on the Liverpool priority list, you would think, amongst other things.

Simeone’s 4-4-2 shape, which he’s likely to stick with, worked effectively in the first-leg and is as solid defensively as it can be punchy and incisive offensively when at its best.

The front two’s positioning can, in conjunction with the midfield, at times create a box around the opposition’s midfield in the early stages of buildup.

Their midfield four tend to be positionally excellent when it comes to cutting off passing lanes and maintaining the team’s excellent lateral and vertical spacing by rarely dropping too deep and timing their presses well.

The two deep-lying central midfielders display further discipline by often tracking midfield runners who look to burst between the full-backs and centre-backs. This is especially valuable within their system, as the full-backs generally look to press a player receiving the ball high and wide, rather than standing off and remaining within a compact block.

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The wide midfield players look to attack the inside-right and inside-left channels respectively — or the half-spaces — when going forward. Width, in turn, is then offered by the full-backs.

Kieran Trippier and 21-year-old Brazilian left-back Renan Lodi have been largely impressive additions this term. Their excellent crossing ability from both deep and higher positions allows the team more chances to maximise the attributes of the likes of Álvaro Morata and Diego Costa up top.

The 2014 La Liga champions remain a thoroughly intriguing and well-balanced team under Simeone’s guidance, even at a time when they are viewed to be in transition.

Matching them for effort, at least, is the first box to tick when it comes to facing them. Liverpool enjoy a battle too, which could make Wednesday’s meeting one with plenty of variety.

Mixing things up and being flexible looks a good route towards a comeback for Klopp and his side. That, at the very least, will keep their visitors on their toes.

In the first-leg, Atlético largely targeted the right-hand side of Liverpool’s defence when it came to balls forward, especially the more direct ones. It’s a tactic used by many teams in order to prevent Virgil van Dijk from challenging for the ball, but Joe Gomez very often stands up to the test nonetheless.

If that pattern is repeated though, perhaps the Reds could look to utilise it for themselves.

If they win the second ball and have the chance to do so, they could look to switch the play on a diagonal to Andy Robertson or Sadio Mané. This could allow the Senegalese to isolate himself with and run at Trippier — if the Englishman comes back in at right-back — or Šime Vrsaljko in a little more space than usual. Robertson’s presence could also offer the chance of an overload.

Atlético’s wide midfielders tend to be excellent at getting over to cover swiftly in these kind of scenarios, but it could be a route Liverpool look to go down.

Combination play by which a player advances inside from a wide area could also prove fruitful.

Roberson, who celebrates his 26th birthday on Wednesday, narrowly missed the target in the 29th minute of the first-leg off the back of such a scenario. Firmino — having advanced into a pocket of space between the lines — was found by the Scot and rolled the ball back into his path, allowing the ex-Hull man a chance to shoot with his right-foot from 25 yards which drifted wide.

It won’t be easy to advance through Atlético’s compact, well-organised central shape but these kind of movements, whether from either full-back or anyone else, could be tough to track.

Another scenario that offers a reminder of how valuable Firmino’s positional awareness and ability to find space could prove in the Merseysiders working a way to goalscoring chances.

The likes of himself and — depending upon who features — Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta driving with the ball at their feet may represent a further route to success if they can attract opponents and open up spaces elsewhere.

Work off the ball will always hold the potential to be crucial going both ways, as well. Transitions or pressing and winning the ball off Atlético in the central or final-third, would earn the Reds the chance to attack from within a more stretched shape and a higher starting point. An inevitably more favourable route to goal of it can be earned. Carelessness in such scenarios is unlikely to come too easily to the Spanish outfit, however.

There are plenty of challenges in this one. Though there are also plenty of options. Liverpool will be aiming to maximise them.

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