Champions League: Atletico Madrid are out to spoil Liverpool's victory march at Anfield, Tottenham travel to Leipzig trailing
In the second leg of Champions League Round of 16 fixtures this week, RB Leipzig are at home to Spurs, Valencia host Atalanta on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, Liverpool welcome Atletico to Anfield while PSG host Dortmund.
Tottenham are about to face Europe’s snazzy outfit again. The stage is Leipzig’s Red Bull Stadium. A venue that has an almost spotless record for the home team
PSG vs Dortmund is poised to be a fascinating encounter with the look of goals about it
Liverpool trail Atletico Madrid by a solitary goal and come into the Anfield second leg ready for a tactical battle
RB Leipzig vs Tottenham Hotspur (Aggregate: 1-0 in favour of Leipzig)
In America, the band Free Nationals released a full disco-inspired album this year. In Europe, RB Leipzig play a brand of football that anticipates the return of new-age disco to dance floors.
Tottenham are about to face Europe’s snazzy outfit yet again, tonight. The stage is Leipzig’s Red Bull Stadium. A venue that has an almost spotless record for the home team.
Everyone from their starting 11 are hot-steppers. One having more panache than the other. Timo Werner is one with the most. His scintillating form has European champions Liverpool wanting him to challenge Roberto Firmino’s starting berth as the team’s number ten dressed in the garb of a number 9 (more on that later). Werner’s goal is the difference between the two sides. Jose Mourinho will likely field a centre back heavy team to confront this threat among others.
Mourinho will be keenly aware of the odds to be surmounted and the other questions, apart from Werner, to be answered. Will Tottenham go all guns blazing with a line-up not having the option to field, owing to injuries, a naturalised striker? Or will he set out to play an uncharacteristic game of possession-based football? Unlikely.
The other option is an open assault, series of full fusillades. Tottenham will need to score two goals to take the game away from the home side. A Mourinho-side is not known for its buccaneering spirit. They take the figurative form of the pantomime villain. Moustache twirling, smirking, setting a trail of booby traps. If there’s a great manager who knows how to turn an opponent’s strengths against itself, that manager would still buy Jose Mourinho a lunch to get pointers.
On the opposite corner is Julian Nagelsmann, a German football dream, and possible future coach of the national team. He’s outspoken, always projecting his slick-haired charm onto people and teams.
Nagelsmann's inspiration is Jurgen Klopp, but there’s something far more metropolitan about him than just his taste in fashion - speaking six languages, he’s one of the new breeds of self-sure, young managers who operate like high-functioning CEOs. Mourinho, considering his old school, convention-facing managerial tutelage under Sir Bobby Robson, may secretly resent those qualities.
Mourinho would have surely tuned in to watch his former side Manchester United take on his long-term nemesis Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Sunday, and then getting the better of him. There are lessons to be learned from that encounter. Manchester United finished the night with 28% possession and yet won 2-0. They played like a team playing away from home at home. Mourinho begrudgingly knows he must borrow a ploy that his replacement Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had put to effect against City. A 3-5-2 is in order.
Valencia vs Atalanta (Aggregate: 1-4 in favour of Atalanta)
My, what big teeth you have, said Little Red Riding Hood to the wolf in granny’s clothing. Atalanta came into the picture of the UEFA Champions League as a Lil ol’ lady club, from the principalities of Italy. But against Valencia, Atalanta played like a pack of wolves in their den.
It’s Valencia’s turn to return the hospitality at the Mestalla. But they are a club that is still in search of its soul after widespread changes in the structure of the club and ownership. The DNA was altered, results were disparaging. But it’s just when they turned it up, their form has taken a nosedive since but, these are exactly moments certain personalities in their team cherish.
Atalanta should go through but expect a Valencia fightback. Hans Hateboer, the scorer of two goals in the last leg in Italy, could be a decisive figure in this game.
Paris Saint Germain vs Dortmund (Aggregate: 1-2 in favour of Dortmund)
Erling Braut Haaland, maybe the only thing that can stop him is a zombie apocalypse. He may even outrun that. What opposition is a mere four-man defence at this rate? He was the scorer of two Dortmund goals vs PSG in the reverse fixture. Neymar was the other scorer.
This fixture provides a delightful mini-story of two of the brightest sparks in European football. While Kylian Mbappe and Haaland may play the same position, the styles couldn’t be dissimilar. Mbappe glides like Silver Surfer on his shiny silver surfboard. While, Haaland's playing style mimics that of a land-clearing excavator mulcher.
Too much of the spotlight has gone over to the side of the Scandinavian starlet. Mbappe, you best believe, wants to correct that course.
This is poised to be a fascinating encounter with the look of goals about it.
Liverpool FC vs Atletico Madrid (Aggregate: 0-1 in favour of Atletico)
Liverpool are trailing to a Saul Niguez goal. The defending champions have three losses in the last five fixtures. The loss at the Wanda Metropolitano was the start of the skidmark. Liverpool haven't seemed openly vulnerable since the away defeat at Barcelona. Playing the second-leg at home - Anfield - has its advantages.
If there’s one manager who can get under Klopp’s skin it is Diego Simeone. He’ll instruct his charges to make sure they take the early initiative away from the home side, and consequently the voices of the home support. If Liverpool draws first blood, the second goal can become an insisting inevitability. To best avoid that, Atletico will try to create early advantage. As seen in the reverse fixture, play-acting, and cynical fouling is counted in the qualities of the Spanish side.
The question of who bites first will depend on whether Liverpool start with their skipper Jordan Henderson in the middle - he’s one with plenty of it. The common consensus is that it may be too early for him to be able to expend the kind of energy that is needed and expected of him. If so, James Milner may have to play a game of a lifetime to drain the energies of Saul Niguez and co.
Koke, Thomas Partey, and Thomas Lemar will look to overload the centre of Liverpool midfield. Niguez is expected to play as the number 10 to Alvaro Morata, creating a vacuum for inward-playing Koke and Lemar to fill. This is concerning as Fabinho, the Liverpool defensive midfielder who has recently returned from injury, and one of their integral parts in the title run, is playing like a man dispossessed. He may be sat out.
Gini Wijnaldum would have to play a slightly more defensive role to assist Milner if Klopp pairs him with the forward-pushing Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. A conservative approach of a ball-retaining Adam Lallana may be an option if possession football is a priority, to give Atletico the fewest possible chances to counter-attack. It’s set to be a tactical masterclass in helter-skelter football.
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