Atletico Madrid v Liverpool: Draw appeals at the Wanda
Liverpool resume the defence of their Champions League crown with a trip to Spain on Tuesday evening. Dave Tindall previews the last 16, first leg showdown...
Atletico Madrid v Liverpool Tuesday, 20:00 Live on BT Sport Extra
Hosts still tough
For most of the last decade, Atletico Madrid would have been favourites to win a two-legged tie over Liverpool.
Diego Simeone's men reached the Champions League final in both 2014 and 2016 and they've not finished outside the top three in each of the last seven seasons. In the last two they were runners-up.
While their backline of Juanfran, Godin, Gimenez and Filipe Luis is no more, the current Atletico still don't give away goals cheaply.
They again had the best defensive record in La Liga last season while only neighbours Real have conceded fewer this term.
But while some things remain the same, there are differences. This year they sit fourth and that's 12 behind second place. And a less robust Atletico have managed just a single win in their last seven games in all comps, drawing 2-2 at Valencia in their latest outing on Friday night.
In this competition, they came through as runners-up in Group D, winning three, drawing one and losing two of their six matches.
Juventus were the big gun in their group, Atletico coming from 2-0 down with 20 minutes left to draw the home game 2-2 while they lost 1-0 in Turin.
Reds not bullet-proof on the road
Liverpool have reached the last two Champions League finals, memorably lifting the trophy in Atleti's home ground - the Wanda Metropolitano - last June. Some great memories will be stirred when they return on Tuesday night.
They also made the final of the Europa League in 2015/16, meaning the Reds have never lost a two-legged European tie under Jurgen Klopp.
With a hard-to-fathom 25 wins and a draw in their 26 Premier League games and Super Cup and Club World Cup silverware already in the bag this season, the Red winning machine just keeps rolling on.
But if there is a slight weakness, it's their away record in Europe. Last season, despite winning the tournament, the Reds lost all three road games in the group phase.
And apart from the League Cup fixture against Aston Villa when they fielded the kids, their only defeat in this remarkable season was a 2-0 loss to Napoli in their opening group game.
They responded to that loss with four wins and a draw to top Group E, winning 4-1 in Genk and 2-0 in Salzburg.
As usual with Klopp, perhaps that's a sign that another potential problem has been addressed.
Champions clear favourites
Liverpool are 2.30 to take a first-leg lead and the odds-against price may prompt many to pull the trigger. The Reds win an awful lot of games. It's very easy to justify.
Atletico Madrid are 3.50 while The Draw is a fraction shorter at 3.45.
The hosts took seven points out of nine at home in the group phase and have lost just one of 12 on their own patch in La Liga, conceding just six goals.
One of the strongest stats, though, is this: Atletico have never lost at home under Diego Simeone in the Champions League knockout stages, winning eight and drawing four. In those 12 games, they only conceded two goals.
Sometimes predicting a stalemate seems like sitting on the fence but in this case it just seems to make a lot of sense.
It keeps the tie alive for both and, of course, a 0-0 and depriving Liverpool of an away goal would certainly be a positive for the Spaniards.
The winter break will be beneficial for Klopp's men in the long run but there was an element of the Reds lacking some attacking rhythm in the narrow in at Norwich so, again, that steers me towards the stalemate.
While the 2-2 draw with Juve proves that sharing four goals is possible, I can't see a repeat of that so I'll back 0-0 at 9.80 and 1-1 at 7.20.
Unders stands out
It's very easy to see why Under 2.5 goals is the clear favourite at just 1.67.
Atletico's 12 La Liga home games have witnessed less than two goals per game on average and the fact that this is the first leg suggests it will be tight.
Liverpool have conceded just six away goals in their 13 away Premier League fixtures and since Joe Gomez became Virgil van Dijk's permanent partner in central defence, the clean sheets have been relentless. Add in all comps and they've had 14 shutouts in their last 18 matches.
Overs is 2.32 but that doesn't seem big enough for those who want to be contrarian.
Mane the difference maker
While putting up a goalscorer punt and tipping 0-0 is slightly contradictory, I just can't ignore Sadio Mane given his record.
The Liverpool man looked fresh as a daisy when he returned from a muscle injury to come off the bench and score the winner in the 1-0 victory over Norwich on Saturday.
He seems to have the gears that others just don't have for tough matches like these and the Senegalese star has netted 16 times in his 32 Champions League matches for the Reds.
But it gets better when adding in an extra filter. If just counting knockout games, Mane has scored 10 goals in 14 ties since 2017/18. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has been more prolific over that period (11 goals).
Liverpool have always progressed against Spanish opposition in a two-legged Champions League tie (3/3): 2-2 on away goals v Barcelona (2006/07 round of 16), 5-0 on aggregate v Real Madrid (2008/09 round of 16), 4-3 v Barcelona (2018/19 semifinals).