RB Leipzig star Timo Werner said he was "very proud" to be linked with a move to Liverpool, labelling the Premier League side the world's best.

Werner, 23, has been linked with the European champions after scoring 26 goals in 32 games for Leipzig this season.

The Germany international's second-half penalty helped Leipzig to a 1-0 win over Tottenham in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Speaking afterwards, Werner discussed the reports linking him with a move to Liverpool and the forward did little to play down a possible switch.

"Liverpool is the best team in the world at the moment and when you're linked with that team it makes me very proud but in case of that it's a pleasure," he told Viasport.

"But I know that in Liverpool play a lot of good players and I have to improve myself to learn much more things to get on this level to play there."

Werner's 58th-minute spot-kick against Spurs in London has Leipzig on track to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.

But the 29-time Germany international warned his side there was work to do against Tottenham, who produced a thrilling comeback away to Ajax in last season's semi-finals.

"Tottenham is a good team, they showed last year that they have the mentality that they can come back in these games," Werner said.

"We have to do the same like today and we have a good start for the first half [of the tie] and we will go on."

Saul Niguez thanked the "true" Atletico Madrid fans for roaring their side to victory over Liverpool following a difficult recent run.

Saul struck just four minutes into Tuesday's first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie as Atletico claimed a 1-0 win to take back to Anfield in the return fixture.

The holders had 73 per cent of the possession but failed to manage a shot on target as they suffered only their third defeat of the season in all competitions.

Atleti's performance, inspired by some vociferous home support at the Wanda Metropolitano, was by far their best during a run of just two victories in eight matches since they beat Barcelona in the semi-final of the Supercopa de Espana.

Saul struggled for form in that time and was grateful to the fans for their backing on Tuesday as he delivered a man-of-the-match display.

"It's a result of hard work, of not giving up, of keeping going, even though everyone wants us to down tools," he said. "We keep going on our way, game by game, doing our job and with a great effort by the whole team.

"We did a great job. We were very good defensively. We were united because they have very dangerous players like [Sadio] Mane and [Mohamed] Salah. Being secure on the wings was key to them not progressing.

"There are lots of people that want to kill us and that criticise us, but the true Atletico fans are there in the good and bad [times] and we're grateful, which is the important thing."

Saul admits he was fired up for the match, having been moved back into his preferred midfield role after recently being used at left-back.

"I was really up for it," said the Spain international. "There has been lots of criticism in recent days and I'm happy to have helped the team in my position.

"The stadium was incredible, it reminded me of the old nights at the [Vicente] Calderon."

Atleti face Villarreal, Espanyol and Sevilla in LaLiga before the second leg at Anfield, which takes place on March 11.

LaLiga champions Barcelona are a club in crisis.

From public rows to allegations that say the current board were involved in hiring a PR firm to spread negative narratives about Barca legends, a claim the club have denied.

It has been a turbulent time at Camp Nou and MLS powerhouse LA Galaxy have looked to capitalise.

 

TOP STORY – GALAXY ENQUIRE ABOUT MESSI

LA Galaxy enquired about Barcelona captain Lionel Messi's interest in moving to the United States, according to Radio Continental.

Messi was involved in a public row with director of football Eric Abidal, raising doubts over his Barca future amid links to Manchester United, Manchester City, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain.

Galaxy head coach and former Boca Juniors boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto reportedly reached out to Messi's father to see if the six-time Ballon d'Or winner was open to swapping Barcelona for Los Angeles.

ROUND-UP

Paul Pogba is confident he will finally be granted an exit by Manchester United, reports the Evening Standard. Pogba – still recovering from an ankle injury – has been linked with a return to former club Juventus as well as LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Independent claims United are in advanced negotiations with former PSG technical director Antero Henrique. Ralf Rangnick is also reportedly being considered.

- RB Leipzig's head of sport Rangnick is still being targeted by Milan for the role as head coach, reports Calciomercato. However, the Italian club are split as Stefano Pioli leads a resurgence.

- According to Tuttosport, Serie A champions Juventus are interested in bringing Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus to Turin.

- France Football says Barca are eyeing Galatasaray's teenage sensation Mustafa Kapi. The 17-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season.

Chelsea have entered the race to sign in-demand Hellas Verona centre-back Marash Kumbulla, says Calciomercato. The 20-year-old Albania international is also wanted by Inter, Napoli, Liverpool, United and City.

Andy Robertson warned Liverpool not to take Anfield for granted in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Atletico Madrid.

Champions League holders Liverpool will go into the return leg against Atletico on March 11 trailing 1-0 on aggregate after their loss at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday.

But while the Premier League leaders will be eyeing yet another special European outing at Anfield, Robertson said his team had to make sure they got the job done.

"We can't take that for granted. Anfield's big, Anfield's amazing for us but we can't take it for granted," he told reporters.

"I know the fans won't but the fans can't take it for granted either that it will just be another special Anfield night. We need to try and make it an Anfield night.

"And that's up to the players and it's up to the fans to all come together to try and make it a special night and hopefully we can do it."

Liverpool failed to have a shot on target in Madrid, where they were frustrated by Atletico after Saul Niguez's fourth-minute opener.

Robertson, whose team are 25 points clear atop the Premier League, said Jurgen Klopp's side would need to be at their best in the return leg.

"We are confident that we can win any game so we need to win this game. We know we need to beat them and we need to beat them with a scoreline that suits us," the left-back said.

"We, obviously, can't really concede. We have been in this position before. You know Napoli at home, we had that same situation in the group stages [last season].

"We have had these situations before but if we are not at 100 per cent then we will not win the game. We've got a couple of games before then and then we will be 100 per cent ready for this game."

Jurgen Klopp accused Atletico Madrid's players of deliberately attempting to get Sadio Mane sent off in Liverpool's 1-0 defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Champions League holders Liverpool suffered just a fourth loss of the campaign in Tuesday's last-16 first leg after Saul Niguez's fourth-minute strike.

Klopp made the surprise decision to substitute Mane, the match-winner against Norwich City at the weekend, for Divock Origi at half-time.

Mane was cautioned for clashing with Sime Vrsaljko and Atleti's players pleaded with referee Szymon Marciniak to dismiss the Senegalese when he caught the same player with a flailing arm.

Klopp confirmed after the game the decision to replace Mane was not down to an injury concern, the forward having only recently returned from a hamstring injury.

"It's part of football, I don't like it, but the plan was to get Sadio out the game with a second yellow card," he said at his post-match news conference.

"I was a little afraid the opponent would go down even if Sadio had a deep breath. I didn't want that situation, that's why I took him off."

Klopp was also forced to replace skipper Jordan Henderson late on after he tweaked his hamstring, but the Liverpool boss downplayed the severity of the injury.

"Hendo felt something, unfortunately," he said. "We have to wait – he was not too concerned, but it was enough for him to go off."

Saul's strike came as a result of some poor defending from Liverpool, but the visitors felt they should have been awarded a throw-in in the lead up to the corner that Atletico scored from.

Klopp's men had 73 per cent of possession in the Spanish capital but failed to register a single attempt on target, with Mohamed Salah and Henderson coming closest to equalising.

"Would I have liked to have got the throw-in? Yes. That would have made our life easier," Klopp, himself shown a yellow card for dissent in the second half, told reporters. 

"Coming here and having 70 per cent possession is exceptional, our build-up was outstanding against a high-press team – it was next level, the best we have done for a long time. 

"The intensity was exactly how it should be, putting the opponent under pressure in the final third we were not clinical enough. We didn't have enough clear-cut chances. 

"We had chances but not enough. Staying in the game is development. We had games in atmospheres like this where we lost focus and they scored a second. That did not look like happening tonight. 

"It is 1-0 at half-time. We don't give up when it's 15 minutes half-time so why should we when we have three weeks? The second half will be played in a different stadium, our stadium, and you will feel that. We are looking forward to it.

"All Atletico fans who have a ticket for the game, welcome to Anfield."

Diego Simeone was in awe of the way the Atletico Madrid supporters welcomed the arrival of Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday and felt it proved key to their victory.

Supporters lined the streets outside the stadium, lit flares and chanted at great volume as the European and world champions' bus arrived for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie.

Atleti had won just once in seven matches in all competitions heading into the game but Simeone's side upset the odds, scoring early through Saul Niguez and holding on for a 1-0 lead to take to Anfield.

"We started winning on the roundabout next to the stadium," Simeone told Movistar. "In eight years, I've never seen a reception like that."

He added in his press conference: "[The atmosphere] was exciting, it makes you want to play. The team responded with great effort, as they did in Valencia.

"It was not [the best night] because we didn't get a title, but there are nights you don't forget and this was one of them.

"The best team in the world comes after a lot of wins and you beat them."

Simeone had talked up the Wanda atmosphere prior to the match as he recognised the need to get a result before travelling to Anfield, where Liverpool have not lost in any competition since September 2018.

Anticipating a similar mood on Merseyside, the Atleti boss expects a tricky encounter.

"We're going to play with a lot of humility, because they are accustomed to playing massive games in their stadium," he said.

Over the past nine years or so under Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid had become that team "no one wants to play" in a knockout clash.

Their resilience, work ethic and downright dirtiness made them arguably the toughest team to play against in Europe – not because of any particular brilliance, but because they were the embodiment of their coach on the pitch.

That aura has somewhat diminished over the past 18 months or so, and there's no getting away from the fact this has been a testing season for Atletico and Simeone, with few giving them a chance against European champions Liverpool in the Champions League last 16.

After finally getting past the Antoine Griezmann saga in pre-season, there had been a feeling Atletico could hit the reset button and begin a process of reinvention following signs of stagnation.

They've done anything but. While they remain shrewd defensively, in attack Atletico are as toothless as they have ever been under Simeone, having only scored more than one other side in LaLiga's top 10.

An anxiousness seems to have engulfed Atletico at times this term, their new-look team appearing uneasy with the pressure that accompanies their established status as favourites in almost any match.

But on Tuesday they were transformed. For a night, the real Atletico were back, and they beat Liverpool 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Their start was as good as anything Atletico have produced all season. Whether they were spurred on by the raucous atmosphere inside the Wanda or some feisty pre-match words from Simeone, it's unclear.

However, Atletico were sharper than the European champions everywhere, snapping into tackles, getting the ball forward quickly and directly, and their intensity off the ball was like the classic Atleti sides of the previous decade.

Atletico used to be the ultimate underdog, their tirelessness, tenacity and voracious nature mirroring the ideals and mannerisms of Simeone, who prowled the touchline throughout. They were never afraid of the big occasion, and all that came flooding back even when Liverpool were on the front foot.

A fortuitous touch off Fabinho allowed Saul Niguez to put Atletico in front after just four minutes.

An early goal from a corner, allowing them to absorb pressure and play on the counter or wait for errors – it was about as quintessential Atletico as it gets.

This situation should've seen them get a second goal in the 26th minute, as Virgil van Dijk's woeful defensive header was pounced on by Alvaro Morata, but after cutting inside Fabinho he could only shoot straight at Alisson from close range.

Liverpool were short of ideas in response, their first shot coming in the 29th minute – a rather hopeless long-range effort from the right foot of Andy Robertson, and Fabinho followed suit with a similarly harmless attempt soon after.

A Mohamed Salah shot that was crucially blocked by Felipe was the best the Reds could muster in the first half, and they fared little better after the interval and ended without a single shot on target, with Atleti's back four and hard-working front six doing a commendable job of limiting space for Liverpool to exploit.

"The people of Atletico always wanted a competitive team, a team that was strong in defence, a team that would play on the counter-attack and be a nuisance for the super-powerful sides," Simeone once wrote in the Coaches' Voice. They certainly delivered on that against Liverpool, with Atletico's coach spending virtually the entire match on his feet, playing the role of chief cheerleader.

Another opportunity fell to Morata on the break deep into the second half, but the much-maligned striker lost his footing at the crucial moment and he was withdrawn soon after.

And therein lies Atletico's biggest problem – with just seven goals, Morata is their most prolific scorer in LaLiga this season and there's every chance Liverpool will make him pay for wasting his two glorious opportunities when they resume hostilities at Anfield.

But on a night that Atletico once again reminded Europe of their status as masters of the mundane, Morata shouldn't be the focus.

No, at a time when many have suggested change is needed at the Wanda Metropolitano, Simeone showed evidence his dynasty's destructive powers are still capable of upsetting the elite.

Virgil van Dijk put Liverpool's 1-0 Champions League loss to Atletico Madrid down to bad luck and warned the Spanish club there is still another 90 minutes of the last-16 tie to play.

Saul Niguez's early strike in Tuesday's Champions League clash gave Atletico a slender lead to take into the return fixture against holders Liverpool at Anfield on March 11.

Saul poked home from close range with four minutes played after a corner fell kindly into his path and Diego Simeone's Atletico kept their advantage intact in Madrid.

Reigning champions Liverpool dominated possession in the Spanish capital but failed to register a single attempt on target, with Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson squandering their best chances.

Despite the defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano, however, defender Van Dijk is remaining upbeat ahead of the second leg in a little over three weeks' time.

"We conceded the goal from the corner, first chance for them, not even a chance. Bit of luck," he told BT Sport.

"The message at half-time was to keep playing. We had the ball most of the game but unfortunately could not create massive opportunities. We still have another 90 minutes to set it right.

"It is the way they play. It is a bit of the Spanish football as well and you have to adapt but we knew it and I feel we handled it pretty well."

Echoing his team-mate's views, full-back Andy Robertson felt the wild celebrations in the stands at full-time were premature given Liverpool's impressive home record.

"We put in a decent performance and we know we can be better. We've got a second leg to put it right," Robertson said.

"They celebrated as if they won the tie after the game. They are coming to Anfield and we know our fans will be there.

"We gave them the best possible start and that get the fans behind them and then they start falling over and getting under the skin a bit."

An early strike from Saul Niguez gave Atletico Madrid a 1-0 win over holders Liverpool in Tuesday's Champions League last-16 first leg at Wanda Metropolitano.

Atletico had won just one of their last seven matches ahead of this tie, but they took the game to Liverpool from the off and opened the scoring through Saul's fourth-minute strike.

Returning to the scene of their magical sixth European Cup triumph in June, the visitors dominated possession but failed to register a single attempt on target in response.

Just a third defeat in all competitions this season leaves Jurgen Klopp's men with it all to do in the return fixture at Anfield on March 11.

Koke's set-piece delivery bounced off Fabinho and squirmed through for Saul, who stabbed the ball past Alisson from point-blank range to give Atletico an early lead.

Atleti pushed for a second goal and an error from Virgil van Dijk gifted Alvaro Morata a free shot from a tight angle, but Alisson was equal to the low attempt.

Liverpool took time to grow into the contest and had the ball in the net through Mohamed Salah after 26 minutes, only for Roberto Firmino to be flagged for offside in the build-up.

Salah flashed a header wide from Liverpool's next big chance eight minutes into the second half as the hosts continued to withstand the pressure.

Jordan Henderson guided a first-time effort just wide and then saw his side denied a late penalty for handball against Thomas Partey, but there was to be no way through.

What does it mean? Advantage Atletico at Anfield

Atletico eliminated Liverpool in their only previous knockout tie - a 2009-10 Europa League semi-final - and they are in a great position to do likewise in next month's return leg.

Diego Simeone's men are known for their ability to frustrate opponents and a draw of any sort at Anfield will send them through.

Super Saul strikes again

Saul was in the right place at the right time to fire Atletico ahead - just the second goal Alisson has conceded in 2020. 

Only Antoine Griezmann (six) has scored more goals in the Champions League knockout phase for Atleti than the Spain international (five).

Odd Mane out at Metropolitano

Sadio Mane was Liverpool's match-winner against Norwich City at the weekend but could not find a way through Atletico's packed defence.

He was involved in a running spat with Sime Vrsaljko and was close to being shown a second yellow card before half-time, perhaps explaining his departure at the interval.

What's next?

Atletico host Villarreal on their return to LaLiga action on Sunday, while Liverpool welcome West Ham to Anfield in the Premier League in six days' time.

Atletico Madrid appear clear underdogs as they welcome European and world champions Liverpool to the Wanda Metropolitano this week.

Liverpool have reached consecutive Champions League finals, winning the decider at Atleti's home last season, and are on course for a stunning record-breaking first Premier League triumph.

Diego Simeone's Atleti have similarly been counted among Europe's elite in years past, winning LaLiga in 2013-14 as they lost the Champions League final, a continental feat that was repeated two years later.

But the Spanish side are facing a battle just to finish in the top four in their domestic league this season.

They face Liverpool in the Champions League last 16, hosting the first leg on Tuesday, and we use Opta data to assess just where they have fallen away ahead of this mammoth task.

 

Steadily slowing since 2014

Simeone has long had a reputation for setting up his side to stifle the best in Spain and across Europe, but in 2013-14 – the greatest season in their modern history – Atleti packed a punch in attack.

The LaLiga champions scored 116 goals in their 61 matches in all competitions – 1.9 per game.

As they returned to the Champions League final in 2015-16, Atleti netted 89 times in 57 matches (1.6 per game), while they average just 1.1 per game this term.

Diego Costa alone scored 35 in 2013-14, and Atleti clearly lack a similarly prolific marksman right now, but their style of play in attack has also changed considerably.

Atleti still have a similar portion of possession – 46.8 per cent in 2013-14 to 47.5 per cent this campaign – yet they were previously far more effective at launching attacks from their low block.

A total of 108 fast breaks across their 61 matches in their best season works out at 1.8 per game. That was down to 0.4 fast breaks per game in 2015-16, and 0.5 per game in 2019-20.

Atleti have simply become far slower and therefore easier to defend against.

 

Alvaro Morata no marksman

Atleti's issues would still not be quite so grave if they were taking chances with the same regularity as previously, but a study of Expected Goals (xG) provides cause for concern.

Costa could have been expected to score 31.85 times across the 2013-14 season but instead beat that xG figure with his tally of 35.

The ability of Simeone's side to compete again two years later was largely due to the talents of Antoine Griezmann, meanwhile, signed after the LaLiga title success.

The France striker outperformed his xG of 18.84 by some distance with a total of 24 goals in all competitions, taking several chances he would not have been expected to score from.

This season, Alvaro Morata is Atleti's top scorer with just eight. Worryingly, he would have been expected to score 12.85 times already.

Joao Felix (three goals, 5.87 xG), Costa (two goals, 2.92 xG) and Vitolo (no goals, 1.62 xG) have all toiled in the final third, too, explaining Atleti's poor goals return.

 

Defensive standards slipping

And Atleti's problems are not just at one end of the field. Jan Oblak remains one of Europe's finest goalkeepers, but even he cannot match previous standards behind a much-changed defence.

The Slovenia star was outstanding in 2015-16, conceding just 26 times across 51 matches, keeping 32 clean sheets and saving 82.67 per cent of shots faced on target.

This term, Oblak has already let in 22 goals in just 31 games, with his save percentage 76.84

Where Atleti could have expected to concede 45.31 goals four seasons ago and allowed just 31, the margins have slimmed considerably: 27.5 xG conceded versus 24 conceded in 2019-20.

Just as Atleti have not effectively replaced Griezmann in attack, they look to be feeling the losses of Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez and Filipe Luis in defence, with Oblak unable to stem the tide.

Liverpool's all-star attack can now fancy their chances against a previously stingy back line.

Liverpool return to the setting of their sixth coronation as European champions on Tuesday, as they face Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano in their last-16 first leg.

The Reds beat Tottenham 2-0 at Atletico's ground last year to win the competition for the first time since 2005, having been defeated in the final the previous campaign.

They go into Tuesday's encounter as big favourites due to a combination of their remarkable form and Atletico's well-documented struggles.

Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain tussle in Germany in Tuesday's other fixture, with their contest sure to capture the imagination of neutrals given the amount of attacking talent on display.

Ahead of Tuesday's action, we take a look at the key data from both games…

Atletico Madrid v Liverpool

0 - Atletico have never lost at home under Diego Simeone in the Champions League knockout stages (W8 D4). In those 12 games, they have only conceded two goals.

3 - Liverpool, who beat Genk and Salzburg on matchday three and matchday six of the group stage, have never won three consecutive away Champions League games. They last did so in the European Cup back in September 1984 under manager Joe Fagan (five in a row).

10 - Liverpool's Sadio Mane has scored 10 goals in 14 Champions League knockout games since 2017-18. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has been more prolific over that period (11 goals).

3 - Liverpool have always progressed against Spanish opposition in two-legged Champions League ties (3/3): 2-2 on away goals v Barcelona (2006-07, round of 16), 5-0 on aggregate v Real Madrid (2008-09, round of 16), 4-3 v Barcelona (2018-19, semi-finals).

50 - If he plays, this will be Alvaro Morata's 50th Champions League game. Fifty per cent of the Atletico striker's goals in the Champions League have come in the knockout phase (7/14).

Borussia Dortmund v PSG

1 - Dortmund have made it past the Champions League last 16 only once in the past five seasons. That was in 2016-17 under current PSG coach Thomas Tuchel – they were eventually knocked out by Monaco in the quarter-finals.

8 - PSG have reached the Champions League knockout stages for the eighth consecutive season – only Real Madrid (23), Barcelona (16) and Bayern Munich (12) are on a longer run. However, in that time, the French side have never gone past the quarter-finals and have been eliminated in the last 16 in each of the past three seasons.

2 - Two of the three youngest players to have scored three or more goals and delivered three or more assists in the Champions League since last season play for Dortmund: 19-year-old Jadon Sancho (three goals, three assists) and 21-year-old Achraf Hakimi (four goals, three assists). The other is PSG's 21-year-old Kylian Mbappe (nine goals, eight assists).

30 - Mbappe has had 30 goal involvements in 30 Champions League games (19 goals, 11 assists). He has scored three goals against BVB, his joint-best record in the Champions League against a single opponent.

22 - Dortmund's previous 22 goals in the Champions League have all come from open play, the longest current run among the remaining sides in the competition.

Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly yet to begin talks with Neymar over a new deal.

The Brazil international was linked with a return to Barcelona before the start of this season, but ended up staying in Paris.

Yet after claims last month that Neymar wanted a new deal at PSG, it is reported no negotiations have been held just yet.

 

TOP STORY – PSG YET TO BEGIN CONTRACT TALKS WITH NEYMAR

PSG and Neymar are yet to meet to discuss a possible extension, according to Le Parisien.

Neymar, 28, is contracted to PSG until 2022, but there have been no talks over a stay beyond then.

The forward is expected to return from injury in PSG's Champions League last-16 first leg against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona appear to have found their replacement for the injured Ousmane Dembele. Sport reports the LaLiga giants have decided to pay Leganes forward Martin Braithwaite's release clause of €18million. Braithwaite has six goals in 24 LaLiga games this season.

- Bayern Munich are lining up a replacement for Jerome Boateng. France Football reports RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano, who has a €60m release clause, has become a priority for Bayern.

- With Champions League football next season slipping away from Roma, the Serie A club may be unable to sign Chris Smalling. Corriere dello Sport reports Tottenham, Everton and Juventus are interested in Smalling, with Manchester United wanting €20m (£16.7m) for the 30-year-old.

- Two of Arsenal 18-year-olds are apparently attracting interest from Liverpool. Football Insider reports the runaway Premier League leaders are looking at Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka.

- Roma are considering a move for RB Leipzig right-back Lukas Klostermann, according to CalcioMercato. Klostermann, 23, has been capped eight times by Germany.

Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak insisted there was more to Liverpool than just their brilliant front three and said they were deserved favourites.

Liverpool face Atletico in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino again shape as being huge threats to Atletico, who have won just one of their past seven games.

But Oblak, likely to play a key role for the LaLiga side, said there was more to worry about than just Liverpool's forwards.

"We've obviously analysed everything but in the end all three are world-class players," he told a news conference.

"And it's not only them, Liverpool are a team and everyone on the pitch is an amazing player. They are in great form so I need to worry about all of them, not anyone individually.

"I'm worried about Liverpool as a team, we are playing Liverpool, not three great players up front. It will be a very difficult game and all three will cause us problems."

While Atletico are struggling for form, Liverpool are unbeaten in the Premier League and hold a 25-point lead at the top.

Oblak said the reigning European champions deserved favouritism for the last-16 tie.

"It's a team that practically hasn't lost a single game in a year, they are deservedly favourites and I'm sure they're favourites," he said.

"But that doesn't mean that we can give up and let them play how they want. We want to play our best possible game, the best game of the season so far and to get to the second leg alive.

"We are going to do our best and play our best against Liverpool who are in a great place at the moment."

Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold is unfazed about individual honours, but the full-back thanked Cafu after the Brazil great said he could win the Ballon d'Or.

Alexander-Arnold, 21, has played a key role in Liverpool's dominant season so far, leading Cafu to suggest the right-back can win a Ballon d'Or.

Speaking ahead of his side's Champions League last-16 first leg against Atletico Madrid, Alexander-Arnold was thankful, but added individual prizes were not a focus.

"Obviously massive praise from a legend of the game. It's something that I'm really thankful for and obviously I have to give thanks to him for them words," he told a news conference.

"I try to be the best player I can be. I think it's obviously a team game, so it's about the players I have around me. The players I have in training, the manager, the support I have all around me that enables me to be as good as I can be.

"Accolades may or may not come in the future, it doesn't really faze me as much as maybe it does other players."

The Ballon d'Or has traditionally been won by attacking players, something Cafu suggested needed to change.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp also praised Alexander-Arnold, who has scored two goals and provided 12 assists in 35 games this season.

"Any football experts in? Did Cafu win the Ballon d'Or? So, he thinks obviously a right-back should win the Ballon d'Or?" he said.

"I couldn't love Trent Alexander-Arnold more. I admire his skills, he's a wonderful boy, character all that stuff. But it's a very positive message from Cafu.

"Yes, he has big potential. If he will win the Ballon d'Or I have no idea. Thank you Cafu for being a really nice fella, obviously."

Diego Simeone says Atletico Madrid are optimistic heading into their Champions League clash with Liverpool, where Diego Costa is in line for a return.

Atleti are enduring a tough campaign and have a battle on their hands in LaLiga to secure qualification for next season's elite European club competition.

Simeone's side should be boosted by Costa's first appearance since November following neck surgery, though.

The former Chelsea striker is in Atleti's 19-man squad to play Liverpool in the first leg in Madrid, although neither Kieran Trippier nor Joao Felix are fit.

Simeone told a pre-match news conference on Monday: "[Costa] is improving, growing, training enthusiastically.

"He is among the 19 players in the squad and has the opportunity tomorrow to play the game."

Atleti have won just one of their past seven games in all competitions, losing the Supercopa de Espana final and crashing out of the Copa del Rey to minnows Cultural Leonesa in that time.

But Simeone insists the mood in the camp is positive ahead of a meeting with the European and world champions.

"I do not see pessimism. I see optimism, emotion," he said. "There is going to be a stadium ready to burst.

"The players really want the match to come, and I see what I like best, which is optimism."

Indeed, Simeone hopes the Wanda Metropolitano can provide the same inspiration for Atleti as Anfield so often does for Liverpool.

"They have a vibrant stadium that will make us suffer when we go there," he said. "But tomorrow, the same thing will happen at the Wanda, and I trust my players a lot."

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