Liverpool’s chances of overturning the 1-0 deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League tomorrow night appear to have been boosted by the potential absence of the La Liga side’s top scorer, with Marca reporting [via Sport Witness] that Alvaro Morata is a doubt for the game due to a thigh injury.
As the only player in Diego Simeone’s squad to reach double figures in terms of goals scored so far this season, the ex-Chelsea man’s absence would seem to tip the scales towards the Reds. However, Jurgen Klopp and his team ought to be very wary of the all-round threat carried by one of Morata’s team-mates.
Liverpool should know all about Saul Niguez as it was his alertness and opportunism which enabled him to score the goal that has given Atletico the upper hand in this tie following the first leg three weeks ago. The 25-year-old is by no means a scoring machine, having struck just four times this season, yet he is still his club’s fourth highest scorer so far in 2019/20.
That’s not to say that the midfielder doesn’t carry an attacking threat, though. He has averaged 1.9 shots per game in the Champions League this term, the fifth highest in Atletico’s squad, while he showed his aptitude for driving at Liverpool in the first leg when he completed four dribbles, the most of anyone in Simeone’s line-up. Niguez is also key to his team’s passing game, with a match average of 51.7 passes this season, while his 85.2% success rate from the first leg was the second highest among his team that night.
As well as contributing in an attacking sense, the Spain international also chips in with his fair share of defensive work for Atletico. He has won an average of 2.3 tackles per game in the current campaign, a figure better by just three team-mates (all defenders) and won 3.6 aerial duels, the third highest in Simeone’s squad (as per WhoScored). He won three headers in the first leg against the Reds, with only Morata winning more among Atletico’s line-up.
In order to nullify the threat of Niguez, Klopp may well need big performances from two of his own well-rounded midfielders. Fabinho has been criticised by some Reds fans over his recent performances against Chelsea and Bournemouth but he still boasts some of the best numbers in Liverpool’s squad, while captain Jordan Henderson is reportedly on track to return tomorrow night (as per Daily Mail), having been ruled out of action since the hamstring injury he incurred at the Wanda Metropolitano last month.
The pair have won the most tackles per game for the Reds in the Premier League this season (Henderson 2.2, Fabinho 2.1), so that ability to snuff out the opposition could curb Niguez’s attacking instincts. Meanwhile, their adeptness at playing accurate long balls (Fabinho averages 4.7 per game, Henderson three) might be the key to bypassing the Atletico man with a knack for breaking up play and winning headers. [via WhoScored]
Even with Morata potentially sidelined, Niguez could well be the man that Liverpool must stifle if they are to get the win they need to maintain the defence of their Champions League crown beyond this week.
Liverpool fans, do you think stopping Niguez will be key to getting past Atletico Madrid tomorrow night? Comment below with your views!