Andrew Flint –
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Atlético Madrid – Tuesday, 3 November 2020 – 17:55 GMT/18:55 CET – RZD Arena, Moscow, Russia
Trying to predict which version of Lokomotiv Moscow will turn up is a fool’s errand of late. Their last three competitive fixtures sum their inconsistencies up perfectly; sandwiched between two deflating defeats in the Russian Premier Liga – one to previously winless newly-promoted Rotor Volgograd, the other to a side that have only been in existence for a little over two seasons – they ran the reigning European champions Bayern Munich ragged for large periods of the second half.
Marko Nikolic prefers to play a slightly out-of-fashion 4-4-2 setup which can leave a lot of pressure on the midfield, especially with regular starter Dmitry Barinov out of action until next year with a cruciate ligament injury. As if to make matters even more challenging, Stanislav Magkeev, the usual stand-in for Barinov, was injured in the warmup before the Champions League game against Bayern last week. What was remarkable was how effortless the work rate and efficiency of youth team product Dmitry Kulikov appeared.
Before the campaign started the best possible hope – and it was a distant one at best – was for Lokomotiv to edge past FC Salzburg into third place, and enter the Europa League knockout stages in the spring. With the crucial point in Austria already under their belts, however, not to mention the hugely encouraging performance against the German champions, there is an inkling of hope that another miraculous showing on matchday three could turn that dream into expectation.
What few foresaw, though, was how ruthlessly Atlético Madrid were dismantled on matchday one. Euan McTear, author of Hijacking LaLiga: How Atlético Madrid Broke Barcelona and Real Madrid’s Duopoly on Spanish Football, explained that the 2016 finalists are not running quite as smoothly as they once did. “Atlético came into the 2020/21 so much more settled than last year. Diego Simeone explicitly described last season as a ‘transition year’, considering they’d lost half their starting XI in the 2019 summer.
“Now, the replacements they’ve brought in like João Félix, Felipe, Renan Lodi and Marcos Llorente are settled. So, there are no more excuses and they’ll once again be aspiring to win the Champions League. In recent years, they’ve actually been closer to winning the Champions League than LaLiga, partly because they are so hard to beat and that means knockout competitions suit them. In LaLiga, they weren’t scoring enough and drew far too often to really challenge.
“This year, though, the defence has been much leakier than usual, even with Jan Oblak remaining in great form. But, they have more firepower in attack with Luis Suárez. Of course Suárez is older, but Simeone is managing his minutes well and he didn’t even travel for the weekend’s game against Osasuna. He was being saved for this trip to Moscow as Atleti look to secure second place in the group as soon as they can.”
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Atlético Madrid – Players to Watch:
Danil Kulikov #69 – Lokomotiv Moscow
The Lokomotiv youth team product is down the pecking order when all midfielders are fit, but his performance at such short notice last week against the reigning Champions League winners Bayern Munich was exceptional. Not only did he protect the central defence – which included Slobadan Rajkovic, who had played just one minute of first-team football since July – his passing was efficient and progressive. Grzegorz Krychowiak depends on a partner who will have discipline to not leave the backline exposed, and and if Kulikov can marshal any possession between the lines then Lokomotiv will have a chance of stifling Atlético’s attacks.
Luís Suárez #9 – Atlético Madrid
The Uruguayan needs no introduction after a career terrorising defences across the Netherlands, England, Spain and the entire continent for almost 15 years now. Although he will turn 34 before the end of this season, he has shown no sign of losing his clinical aggression up front after scoring four goals in his first five LaLiga matches for Atlético. He is yet to score after the first two matchdays of the Champions League group stage but will provide the attacking focal point for the visitors.
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Atlético Madrid – Match Statistics:
- Lokomotiv and Atlético met less than a year ago in the Champions League group stage, with the Spanish side winning 2-0 both home and away
- Lokomotiv have lost 12 of their last 15 Champions League group-stage matches
- Against Spanish opposition, they have won just two of 10 home fixtures
- Atlético’s matchday 1 defeat, a 4-0 reverse against Bayern Munich, equalled their record European loss
- The Spanish side have never lost in seven visits to Russia (W5, D2)
- They have made at least the quarter-finals in five of their last seven Champions League campaigns
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Lokomotiv Moscow vs Atlético Madrid – 1-2
Lokomotiv Moscow vs Atlético Madrid – Possible Lineups:
Guilherme – Zhivoglyadov, Rajkovic, Cerquiera, Rybus – Kamano, Krychowiak, Kulikov, Miranchuk – Smolov, Zé Luís
Manager: Marko Nikolić
Atlético Madrid :
Oblak – Trippier, Felipe, Giménez, Lodi – Correa, Torreira, Koke, Lemar – João Félix, Suárez
Manager: Hansi Flick
Andrew Flint is an AIPS accredited journalist based in Tyumen, Siberia, who covers the Russian men’s national team, the Russian Premier Liga, and Russian clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League for the Futbolgrad Network. Follow him @AndrewMijFlint