Liverpool await Atletico Madrid for the all-important second leg of their Champions League last-16 clash against Diego Simeone’s Spanish giants at Anfield on Wednesday night.
One major boost for the travelling visitors ahead of the upcoming Merseyside European spectacle was the recent recovery of their club-record signing Joao Felix who made his first start since January during Atletico’s 2-2 draw with Sevilla at the weekend.
Felix, 20, signed for Atletico from Benfica for a gargantuan fee of £113m [BBC Sport] last summer and is one of the brightest young talents in Europe.
While the young Portuguese hot-shot has scored two goals upon his return from a leg injury, his involvement against Liverpool could actually benefit the Reds come Wednesday night.
The youngster missed the first leg at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium which was won by Simeone’s team after Saul Niguez scored the only goal in the Spanish capital three weeks ago.
Felix has limited European experience and has only registered two goals in the competition against Lokomotiv Moskow in the group stages of the competition.
He also lacks the pedigree and tactical nous in make-or-break European fixtures that Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata possess. Both the aforementioned names have delivered in big moments in vital games while the strike duo have also both scored in Champions League semi-finals.
Morata has been reportedly been dubbed as an injury doubt for the Anfield clash while Costa has just two goals for Atletico all season.
Simeone’s team will also likely have to score if they are to pull off an Anfield upset with no team restricting Liverpool from scoring since Bayern Munich last year.
Despite their impregnability at their home fortress in recent years, Atletico’s form away from the Spanish capital has been their undoing in the competition.
In fact, Simeone’s team have failed to score away from home in the knockout stages of the Champions League since 2017 and have won just two of their previous 12 European Cup away fixtures.
With Felix in the team, the 2019 Golden Boy may lack the streetwise approach of his attacking counterparts and this could be something Liverpool can exploit tomorrow night.
Felix made just one appearance in the Champions League last season which could make the clash with Jurgen Klopp’s European champions his first European knockout bout.
The Portugal international is unlikely to have witnessed anything like a raucous Anfield on a Champions League night and it is far from an ideal location to make your long-awaited European knockout debut.
With the Reds needing to break down the lines to grab their goal, having a weak link in the first line of defence would benefit the current reigning champions of the competition greatly.