Atlético Madrid can take confidence from a strong end to the domestic season alongside their now celebrated humbling of Liverpool at Anfield ahead of their clash with Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig, who represent something of an unknown quantity in this year’s Champions League campaign. In spite of the discernible talent and quality which flows through the Germans’ starting lineup, the loss of Timo Werner may well have left them decidedly toothless up front against one of Europe’s most historically capable defences.
As well as being a massive load off of Diego Simeone’s mind, the absence of Werner is an ostensibly significant blow for Leipzig. 34 of the Stuttgart-born talisman’s 95 goals for the club came this season, and Nagelsmann may now have to look primarily to his midfield for attacking inspiration. Leipzig fans might draw some encouragement from the fact that the electrifying version of their side which steamrollered Tottenham in the last 16 was powered largely by their midfield; however, their opponents in the quarter-finals will almost certainly present a more formidable challenge in the centre of the park than that posed by Mourinho’s second-rate Spurs five months ago.
Indeed, in a season described by Simeone himself as one of transition, the defensive fortitude displayed throughout the campaign by Atlético cannot and should not be underestimated in the run-up to this contest. The fact that El Cholo’s side can only boast the seventh-best defence of the 12 teams left in the Champions League doesn’t tell us much – had they not conceded two goals against Liverpool they would be in the top three behind PSG and Bayern – their league form is rather more telling of an outfit which has so often been defined by its ability to shut up shop when it counts.
During Simeone’s tenure at the club, Los Colchoneros have kept 173 clean sheets in 321 La Liga Santander games; 18 of those came this season, of which six were achieved following the restart in June. Atlético will, therefore, see themselves more than capable of handling a Werner-less Leipzig – whatever the threat of Konrad Laimer, Kevin Kampl, Tyler Adams and Marcel Sabitzer in midfield.
Statistics and recent form aside (Leipzig have achieved only two clean sheets since the restart) one would be foolish to dismiss this – or any other Champions League tie for that matter – as a foregone conclusion. This year’s one-leg, all or nothing format could well favour the underdog, and Nagelsmann’s men have shown themselves to be more than capable of rising to a challenge – with or without Timo Werner.