It’s been a season to forget thus far for Atlético Madrid and coach Diego Simeone. The Spanish giants have looked bereft of inspiration, rendered impotent by the loss of Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona in the summer, struggling along trying to recapture the vigour that made them such formidable opponents in recent seasons.
They lie in sixth place in La Liga, without a win in five matches in all competitions, struggling for inspiration. It looked as though Atlético had turned a corner over December and early January, picking up five wins on the spin, but the wheels have fallen off once again and Simeone appears unsure on how to arrest their slide.
But the return of the Champions League brings a chance for a fresh start in a competition where Atlético have enjoyed plenty of success in recent campaigns. Of course, their round of 16 opponents don’t get much tougher, as defending European champions Liverpool come to town on February 18th before the return leg at Anfield on March 11th.
While Liverpool are undisputedly the best club side in the world at the moment, Atlético have always thrived as underdogs, often defying the odds on UEFA Champions League. Simeone is the master of getting his teams to ruffle the feathers of more fancied opposition, which is exactly what they did en route to reaching their two Champions League finals in 2014 and 2016.
In the 2013-14 campaign, they overcame both Barcelona and Chelsea on their way to the final, agonisingly losing out to bitter rivals Real Madrid after leading for much of the game. In 2015-16, Barcelona again fell at the hands of Simeone’s men, while German giants Bayern Munich were also vanquished along the way. Another heartbreaking loss to Real Madrid in the final was the end result, but Atlético have proved time and time again that they fear no-one in the Champions League.
Simeone’s side thrive in big occasions such as the one coming up against Liverpool. The Wanda Metropolitano crowd has been starved of anything to shout about this season, so you can bet the atmosphere will be bouncing for the visit of the European champions.
With Liverpool’s league title looking to be all but secured, they can perhaps direct more attention to their Champions League campaign than may have otherwise been the case. Jürgen Klopp’s side did not look as assured in the Champions League group stage than they have been in the Premier League all season. Napoli got the better of them in September, and that may give Simeone hope that there are in fact cracks to be exploited in Liverpool’s winning machine.
Few teams have the ability to unsettle opponents like Atlético Madrid. Although their playing squad has changed somewhat since the days when Diego Godín, Juanfran and Gabi ruled the roost, Simeone will ensure that the current crop of players are just as fired up for the visit of Liverpool.
A good performance in the tie could work wonders in terms of kick-starting Atlético’s season. They may be languishing in the doldrums as far as La Liga is concerned, but this is a club who thrive in the role of the Champions League’s underdogs. If they could spring a shock and overcome the might of Liverpool, then perhaps another run to the tournament’s latter stages could be on the cards.