You may have heard that Atlético Madrid and Liverpool will get reacquainted on Tuesday night at the Wanda Metropolitano in a crucial Champions League group stage showdown. Atlético will be playing its first game since Oct. 2, as the rojiblancos’ scheduled league game against Granada this weekend was postponed (much to Jürgen Klopp’s annoyance). Klopp’s men, though, thumped Watford 5-0 on Saturday — and the Reds’ forward line looks as deadly as it has at any point in the past two years.
Diego Simeone will have decisions to make in defense with Stefan Savić still serving an outsized four-game suspension and José Giménez unlikely to be fit after sustaining a muscular injury while on Uruguay duty. This is potentially a mouthwatering prospect for Mohamed Salah, who has scored 10 times in 10 games this season with goals in his past eight appearances. Atlético will need a sterling defensive performance and another efficient attacking display to get a result on Tuesday — a repeat of Liverpool’s last visit to the Metropolitano would send Simeone’s men top of Group B and likely to qualify.
Here’s what Cholo’s starting 11 could — maybe should — look like for Tuesday’s partidazo.
Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak
Obviously. Oblak played one of his best-ever games against Liverpool at Anfield in March 2020, keeping Atlético alive long enough to secure an incredible aggregate win in the round of 16.
Always in safe hands. pic.twitter.com/itdwS20vwQ— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) October 17, 2021
Center-backs: Geoffrey Kondogbia, Felipe Monteiro, Mario Hermoso
Giménez trained fully at the Metropolitano on Sunday, but given his troubling injury history, it would be no surprise if he missed out Tuesday — rushing him back could prove costly. Kondogbia is next up in this scenario, as Atlético opted not to retain a fifth central defender this summer. He’s put in one outstanding shift at this position during a win over Elche in August, but Liverpool are a different beast entirely.
Hermoso will have quite the challenge facing down Salah and Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold — the visitors will work to isolate him, with Roberto Firmino expected to occupy Felipe’s attention.
Wing-backs: Renan Lodi, Kieran Trippier
Lodi enjoyed one of the best nights in his Atlético career when Liverpool last played here — the Brazilian pocketed Alexander-Arnold in a man-of-the-match outing. While he may not do that again, Lodi is making a habit of showing up when Atleti need inspiration — such as his equalizing goal against Osasuna in May and his equalizing assist for Antoine Griezmann against Milan last month.
Starting Lodi would be a gamble from Simeone, but if it doesn’t work, Yannick Carrasco will be a dangerous replacement.
Trippier played for and captained England over the international break. After a slow start to the campaign, his physical level is now something to keep an eye on as we hit autumn.
Midfielders: Koke, Thomas Lemar, Marcos Llorente
Atlético’s captain is another obvious choice to start — expect him to cover tons of ground and help the wing-backs. Héctor Herrera probably enters the game at some point to offer a bit more cover in midfield — he has trained with the other prospective starters this week.
As I’ve written in this space before, Lemar must continue to start given his dynamism, elasticity, and particularly his press resistance — against this particular opponent, that last quality will be crucial.
The last midfield selection should not come as a shock. Llorente’s career changed 19 months ago with his extra time brace against this very opposition. He’s had the international break to recover from a thigh problem and should be ready for Tuesday.
Leaving out Rodrigo De Paul is a tough choice, but he played 212 minutes over the three-game international break for Argentina. He will have some role Tuesday, though, particularly if Simeone decides to adjust the formation in response to Liverpool pressure and make space for an extra pivot.
Forwards: João Félix, Luis Suárez
Félix entered the break in fine form after two excellent displays against Milan and Barcelona. He was not named to Portugal’s squad over the break and should be fresh.
Suárez started for Uruguay throughout this month’s CONMEBOL qualifiers and scored a lovely free kick against Brazil. He looked fit and physically-sharp even as Argentina (3-0) and Brazil (4-1) hammered La Celeste, and the 34-year-old is facing another of his former teams after scoring against Barça before the break. However, El Pistolero will face a stiffer challenge in the heart of Liverpool’s defense — the now-healthy Virgil Van Dijk is marshaling a back line that has conceded only seven goals in the 810 minutes he’s played in 2021/22.