surinenglish

A LOOK AT LA LIGA

Simeone's scrappers

Diego Simeone and "Mono" Burgos on the touchline.
Diego Simeone and "Mono" Burgos on the touchline. / Reuters
  • Liverpool's biggest obstacle to being crowned European champions will be the perennial underdogs, currently struggling to live up to their new billing as top dogs

When it comes to football, Atlético Madrid are just like Andy Ruiz Jr, the ugly fighter than nobody fancies to become champion, but likewise nobody wants to step into the ring with.

Liverpool's biggest obstacle to regaining their European title is an opponent that appears a little punch-drunk and has staggered around unknowingly for a few rounds but just refuses to go down no matter how much you hit them.

Make a note of this: Atleti have reached a European final every 'even' year since 2010 and consistently defy the odds stacked against them.

Domestically, they have disappointed and underperformed. They're struggling for fourth place and exited the Copa del Rey surprisingly early against Cultural Leonesa so just how can they compete with the best team from the so-called best league in the world?

That's just how their manager Diego Simeone likes it. Lull the opponents into a false sense of security, take the blows and counter just when it's least expected.

In La Liga, they are no longer disruptors; they are part of the elite and that sits uncomfortably with the Argentine. He prefers the status of underdog to top dog.

When it comes to Europe, nobody will fancy an uninspiring team against the rested and lauded Liverpool. All you will read in the English papers between now and the second leg is how Diego Costa is a spent force, Álvaro Morata is struggling and record-signing João Félix isn't living up to his reputation. Kieran Trippier will also miss the first leg. My goodness, the Spaniards are almost written off already!

Everyone expects Liverpool to win the first leg and they probably will, albeit marginally. Then the talk will be about just when the Merseysiders tie up the Premier League title and little notice will be given to the second leg.

Atlético have nothing to lose. They rebuilt in the summer and started with the defence. There's nothing wrong in that department and they've one of the best goalkeepers in the world. The midfielders also run a 10k race every game - only the strikers struggle. Antoine Griezmann may not be grabbing headlines at Barcelona but he's missed at the Wanda.

By 11 March, João Félix will be fit again and Diego Costa will be up for a fight; that's when Liverpool have to be aware of having an Anthony Joshua moment. Dismiss Atlético at your peril.

Simeone's position has been scrutinised in recent months, I even saw an article debating who should replace him. "Mono" Burgos, the heavy-rock loving sidekick is said to be leaving in the summer to pursue a solo career. The odds are getting stacked up against him, some would crumble, he'll be absolutely loving it.

Remember, Simeone is the man who blotted David Beckham's perfect copybook at the 1998 World Cup. It took him 20 years to own up to employing dirty tricks. If he can black ball Golden Balls, he's well capable of dislodging one of Jürgen Klopp's teeth.

I'm convinced that Liverpool will go on to the final and retain the Champions League trophy, but they'll have the bruises from two rounds with Simeone's scrappers.