Tonight’s game at Vicente Calderon could be overshadowed by events off the field.
Although Fernando Torres is unavailable to play, this hasn’t stopped Atletico offering him VIP treatment for tonight. Torres has opted to stay on Merseyside and try to get himself fit for Sunday’s game against Chelsea. Perhaps this is a wise decision because tonight’s match will also be under intense scrutiny for the wrong reasons. Firstly the crowd will be watched, or rather listened to, for a repeat of the racist abuse handed out to Marseille’s Taiwo at the last match. Surely the odds on that happening are slim I think the only black player who is likely to get on the field is Jermaine Pennant and he is be no means guaranteed a run? The police and stadium security will also be under scrutiny for a repeat of the clashes they had with Marseille fans on the night.
Even though punishment has been handed out this may not be the end of it? Add to this the English FA’s insistency that a forthcoming international match between England and Spain be staged away from Madrid due the racist abuse their players took on their last visit has, to put it mildly, *issed off many fans of Real and Atletico. Conspiracy theories have also been sited amongst the Spanish press relating to Madrid’s bid for the Olympics.
So not a good time for Rafa, born in Madrid, to visit his home City? Inevitably he will be asked about the current situation but, Rafa, in the light of recent internal domestic spats, is well versed in the habit of stating that that he is just concentrating on the game. However he is also a proud man
“For anyone to go back to their home town with their team is a really special moment, It would have been important for Fernando because Atletico Madrid were his club and for me it is important because my family are in Madrid and it is where I am from so I will be really, really proud to go there as manager of Liverpool Football Club. For me, it is a massive achievement just to be at this great club, and to play Champions League football in Madrid is amazing.”
Will we get caught in the cross fire as the crowd voices its disapproval? May be but I don’t think anything will be directed specifically against us. Hurt Liverpool and you hurt Torres, still their hero. I also has to be remembered that we have some of the Spanish Euro 2008 squad in the side and Atletico have two ex reds in there squad Louis Garcia and Florent Sinama-Pongolle. Oh and Jose Reina’s dad used to play for them! If there is any dissent surely it will be directed at UEFA and not us?
To the game and on the evidence so far this seems to be the hardest of the group. Like us Atletico are unbeaten. However, our results in this campaign, two wins out of two, mean we don’t go into this game under the pressure we experienced in last years group stage. Although one doesn’t wish it a draw, or even a defeat, wouldn’t be a disaster? However, that’s a negative thought and we are more than capable of ensuring that both these potential outcomes are avoided.
Team wise we will be stronger than Saturday. Mascherano will return and Daniel Agger, despite his error on Saturday, will be stronger after a full 90 minutes. How will we line up? My feeling is that it will be one up front with five across midfield. Which presumably means the lone rider will be Robbie Keane with Dirk Kuyt returning out wide? Ok, it’s just a thought!
Prediction? I feel fairly confident about this one. It’s not exactly a “free go” but we can play without fear or worry. Lose and we still should be able to pick up enough points to qualify from our remaining group games, win and qualification is all but assured? So let’s hope we go for it – 2-1.