Jurgen Klopp may not resemble any character out of Harry Potter by any means, but Liverpool will need to up their ‘Defence against the dark arts’ game when Atletico Madrid visit Anfield on Wednesday night. Diego Simeone’s men carry a slender 1-0 lead into the second leg, fully cognizant of what happened at Anfield the last time a Spanish side visited Liverpool with a first-leg lead. While Liverpool went on to win the UEFA Champions League last season on the back of that win against Barcelona, there are quite a few similarities between the Barcelona game and the upcoming Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid game this week, chief among them being the fact that Liverpool are now marginally the underdogs to go through.
"Anfield is the only place you don’t want to go", were the words used by Arsenal legend Arsene Wenger to describe the fortress that Liverpool have built over the years. Here stands the ground that stood witness to one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the Champions League last season (read: Barcelona’s Anfield visit last season). A ground chock-full of historic moments in historic games featuring one of the sport’s most successful teams. On March 11, however, Anfield will have to be at their boisterous best when Atletico Madrid stand in Liverpool’s way.
Jurgen Klopp was anything but a happy man after the result from the first leg. The German had little reason for joy, with Liverpool trailing by a goal and the likes of Sadio Mane, Joe Gomez and Andrew Robertson one booking away from missing the subsequent game. Atletico Madrid, however, executed their game plan to the T at the Wanda Metropolitano. Time-wasting and the repeated sight of Atletico Madrid players barraging the referee did little to calm Jurgen Klopp as the Reds lost their head in the din that was orchestrated by Diego Simeone at the venue where they were sipping champagne last June.
“I was afraid his opponent would go down even if Sadio just takes a deep breath” was one of Klopp’s standout quotes post the first leg. Yet, the Reds will have to once again deal with the constant fusillade of tactical fouls that Atletico Madrid will have up their sleeves at Anfield. The key men in this contest for Liverpool, therefore, stand to be (if he plays), Jordan Henderson and James Milner.
Jurgen Klopp has, more often than not, stuck to bringing James Milner on after 60-odd minutes in games where he looks to introduce a bit of dark arts himself in the Liverpool midfield. Tactical fouls, time-wasting and keeping the ball near the corner flag in and around the 90-minute mark is what is asked of Milner, one that he delivers on with remarkable consistency. When it comes to Jordan Henderson, the Liverpool captain will also have a significant role in combating Simeone’s dark arts at Anfield.
Henderson has missed close to two weeks of action, but the Liverpool midfield has been crying out for his authoritative organisation in the games he has missed. With Henderson and Milner both expected to feature against Atletico Madrid, Liverpool will have their own defence against the dark arts when Los Rojiblancos make the trip to Merseyside. Whether that will prove to be enough remains to be seen, but Anfield loves having the tag of being underdogs, one that came in handy against Barcelona (read: Corner taken quickly, Origi), and one that could repel the dark arts of Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid.