3:05pm ET, live in the US on DirecTV channel 462 or 462-1.
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 West Ham (h); 0-0 Fulham (h); 4-1 Benfica (h)
Atletico: 1-2 Villareal (a); 1-2 Xerez (h); 0-3 Espanyol (a)
Liverpool: 4-1 Benfica (h); 1-2 Benfica (a)
Atletico: 0-0 Valencia (h); 2-2 Valencia (a)
Round of 16:
Liverpool: 3-0 Lille (h); 0-1 Lille (a)
Atletico: 2-2 Sporting (a); 0-0 Sporting (h)
Round of 32:
Liverpool: 3-1 Unirea (a); 1-0 Unirea (h)
Atletico: 2-1 Galatasaray (a); 1-1 Galatasaray (h)
Group Stage Results:
Liverpool: 1-2 Fiorentina (h); 1-0 Debrecen (a); 1-1 Lyon (a); 1-2 Lyon (h); 0-2 Fiorentina (a); 1-0 Debrecen (h)
Atletico: 0-3 Porto (h); 1-1 APOEL (a); 2-2 Chelsea (h); 0-4 Chelsea (a); 0-2 Porto (a); 0-0 APOEL (h)
Liverpool: Torres 4; Benayoun, Babel, Gerrard, Kuyt, Ngog 2; Agger, Lucas, Mascherano 1
Atletico: Aguero 6; Forlan 3; Simão 2; Lopez, Maxi, Reyes 1
Referee: Laurent Duhamel (FRA)
Guess at a squad:
Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Agger
Benayoun Gerrard Babel
Somehow, two very undeserving teams are in a European semifinal. I love cup competition sometimes.
Enough’s been written about what I lovingly call the annus horribilis, and the horribleness continues, with Torres, Skrtel, Insua, Aurelio, Pacheco, and Kelly absent, and Liverpool having spent the last two days on buses, trains, and a plane to get to Madrid.
My questions, as usual, are who’ll be the striker in Torres’ absence, who’ll play on the wings, and whether Aquilani will get another start. Same old, same old. Away from home, Kuyt seems a better option as the prima punta; Ngog’s only scored two of his eight goals away from Anfield (against Debrecen and Leeds). Especially if he’s supported by Benayoun and Babel, which would be necessary with Kuyt up top, Maxi ineligible against his old team, and Riera ideally lost somewhere in the wilderness.
At the same time, it’ll probably be Lucas/Mascherano in midfield if it’s not Gerrard/Masch and 4-4-2. Aquilani hasn’t gotten more appearances as the season’s gone on, and Lucas has actually shown a bit more dynamism with Liverpool pushing forward more often. As such, I’d be surprised to see the Italian make the starting XI. He’s only started twice in Europe: against Fiorentina and Unirea, both at Anfield.
Atletico's league struggles even exceed Liverpool's, sitting in 10th with 40 points from 33 games (and you thought Liverpool's season had been horrific). Yet they find themselves in the semifinals of the Europa League and the final of the Copa del Rey. Somehow, they’re in the semifinals having won exactly one game – out of 12 – in European competition. Winless in the Champions League, a last-minute strike for a 3-2 aggregate over Galatasaray, and squeaking by Sporting Lisbon and Valencia thanks to the away-goal rule but in the semi-final aptly illustrates the vagaries of cup competition. Oh, and the clubs they beat to get to the Copa del Ray final were Marbella, Recreativo Huelva, Celta Vigo, and Racing Santander.
The Rojiblancos have lost their last three fixtures, but otherwise haven't been awful at the Vicente Calderon. They’ve won six of their last seven at home, with a loss in their last match against bottom-club Xerez the lone blemish. They've beaten Barcelona, Valencia, and Sevilla in front of their own fans this season. But with three 0-0 draws in six European home games, there's probably good money on that scoreline, especially since Torres is absent.
Thankfully, Liverpool's opponents are shorn of their star striker as well, if only for this leg. Aguero – who accounts for almost half of Atletico's goals in Europe – is suspended after unnecessarily picking up a yellow for time wasting late in the last round. I assume Jurado or Reyes will play off Forlan in his absence, and lacking Maradona's son-in-law, Reyes, Forlan, Simão will be Atletico's main threats.
Barcelona's performance after traveling for two days doesn't bode well for the team tomorrow. But a last shot at a trophy – the first since the FA Cup in 2006 (Community Shield doesn’t count) – should be motivation enough.