200219 Liverpool
Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez scored the only goal against Liverool in the first leg Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: One side has just racked up their 22nd home win on the trot and sit a mind-boggling 25 points clear at the top of their domestic league standings. The other has failed to win three of their last four league fixtures and sit 13 points off top spot.

Yet, curiously, it is the latter of these that many regard as the favourites to win when these two sides face off in their last-16 Uefa Champions League clash on Wednesday night.

Liverpool had looked imperious, on an unbeaten season in the Premier League and opening up a record-shattering gap at the top of the table.

Until they ran into Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their tie two weeks ago at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

Saul Niguez’s fourth-minute goal was enough for Atletico to secure a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, and secure a could-be-crucial clean sheet at home against Liverpool — and set in motion a curios, head-scratching set of results.

Atletico Madrid's Saul, second from right, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during a first leg, round of 16, Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday Feb. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Atletico Madrid's Saul celebrates his goal

Liverpool scrapped and scraped to a 3-2 win over lowly West Ham in their next outing, before being on the receiving end of the upset of the Premier League season when they were thrashed and outplayed 3-0 by Watford. Reeling from that shock, they were then unceremoniously plonked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea, and again had to fight back to secure the three points against Bournemouth while on league duty at the weekend.

Following that evening in Madrid, most would have fancied the well-oiled, ruthless machine assembled by Jurgen Klopp to overcome the 1-0 deficit at Anfield. Two weeks later, it is a very different picture as the defence that Liverpool have built their recent successes on has shipped eight goals since that meeting with Madrid and is looking decidedly fragile.

Stalwart goalkeeper Alisson Becker is out with a hip injury to add to Klopp’s concerns, given that the man who will be wearing the gloves instead is Adrian — agile, athletic but erratic.

Atletico must be fancying their chances to get an away goal, meaning Liverpool must score at least three on the night to advance. That is a tough ask, even for the mighty Reds, as Diego Simeone has fashioned one of the stingiest and well-marshalled defences at Atletico.

Klopp, as defiant as ever, issued a rallying call to the famous Anfield crowd to help them to another memorable European night at Anfield.

The German has never lost a European game at Liverpool since taking over in 2015.

“Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield! It’s not over yet,” the German said.

Midfielder James Milner added: “It’s down to us to turn around a tough result. We know how good they are, we know how well organised they are but hopefully we can push them all the way and overturn that and have another special night at Anfield.”

Soccer Football - Ligue 1 - Paris St Germain v Dijon - Parc des Princes, Paris, France - February 29, 2020  General view of the entrance outside the stadium, closed due to coronavirus precaution by PSG organisation, before the match. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes  REFILE - ADDING INFORMATION
The gates will be closed at Parc des Princes for PSG v Dortmund Image Credit: Reuters

Over in France, the atmosphere will be very, very different as Paris St-Germain will be bidding to avoid another early departure from the competition when they take on German giants Borussia Dortmund seeking to overturn a 2-1 deficit at the Parc des Princes.

PSG are completely dominant in Ligue 1 and are on their way to their eighth title in nine years, but despite millions in investment and the importing of players such as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, Mauro Icardi and Angel Di Maria, they have consistently flopped in Europe.

In eight years since the takeover by Qatari investors, PSG have beaten just three teams in Champions League knockout ties: Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea.

Sporting director Leonardo recently said of the Dortmund tie: “It’s not life or death. If we lose we will try again next year.”

Try telling that to the fanatical PSG fans, who won’t even be allowed to witness their possible exit from Europe this time around.