Atletico Madrid President Jokes Anfield 'Wouldn't Pass the UEFA Inspection'

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2020

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04:  Liverpool fans wave flags and banners before the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between Liverpool and Shrewsbury Town at Anfield on February 4, 2020 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Visionhaus)
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Anfield isn't going to intimidate Atletico Madrid, not judging by club president Enrique Cerezo, who has made light of facing Liverpool at the forbidding venue in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League last 16.

Atleti will take a slender lead to Merseyside on March 11 after beating the holders 1-0 in the Spanish capital on Tuesday night. Liverpool have produced some memorable comebacks at home, but Cerezo was in bold spirits when he spoke about the prospect to AS (h/t Connor O'Neill of the Liverpool Echo): "Anfield is a great stadium but it's old. It probably wouldn't pass the UEFA inspection if it had to do it."

Naturally, there is more than a little bravado at play behind Cerezo's words. However, Atleti earned the right not to be over-awed at Anfield after the way they handled Liverpool in the first leg.

A stubborn defensive rearguard action denied the Reds time and space in the final third. Ultimately, a usually prolific and overpowering Liverpool side was rendered impotent in front of goal, much to Jurgen Klopp's frustration:

Atleti achieved the rare feat of blanking Liverpool even with right-back Kieran Trippier and club-record signing forward Joao Felix injured. The result was further proof of Atletico boss Diego Simeone's ability to frustrate more talented teams in big games.

It's served Atleti well during Simeone's tenure, earning the club a pair of UEFA Europa League trophies, as well as Champions League final appearances in 2014 and 2016. In many ways, the victory over Liverpool represented a throwback to previous upsets on Simeone's watch, including beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in 2016.

Cerezo echoed a similar sentiment when he said: 

"According to the media, a week ago we were dead and buried and now we are very much alive. They had gone 30 games unbeaten and people were saying they are the best team in the world. We are happy with the result but we still have another game to go. But we have rediscovered ourselves and that is the best news."

Of course, Liverpool have their own proud history at home in this competition. Historically, Anfield has taken on an aura that gives the Reds an edge on decisive nights.

This edge was never more obvious than when Barcelona arrived on the red half of Merseyside with a 3-0 lead after the first leg of last season's semi-final. Barca promptly wilted amid a deafening din from an intense home crowd that spurred Liverpool to a famous 4-0 win.

Klopp has already sounded a warning to Atleti about the challenges awaiting them in the return fixture:

The Reds have reversed more daunting deficits, while it's also true Atletico are no longer quite the force they were. Simeone's men are fourth in La Liga and 13 points adrift of leaders Real Madrid.

Even so, it would be dangerous for Liverpool to expect another Anfield miracle. If there's one team tough and resourceful enough to weather the storm in three weeks it's Simeone's masters of pragmatic resistance.

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