3 min: Sabitzer’s right-wing cross forces Atletico to concede an early corner. From the set piece, Olmo swings into the mixer, and the ball drops to Halstenberg, who blazes a fine chance high over the bar from eight yards. A strong start by Leipzig.
2 min: Upamecano gently eases Costa away from the ball, much to the striker’s chagrin. He attempts to instigate a back-and-forth with the referee about it, but the official isn’t interested. This could be a very interesting duel.
Madrid get the ball rolling. They ship possession pretty quickly, allowing Leipzig to have the first significant feel of the ball. Nkunku briefly threatens to break down the left, but the space is closed in short order. Both teams represented in microcosm by the first 25 seconds or so.
Before kick-off, a minute’s solemn silence for the tragic victims of the Coronavirus. RIP.
Here come the teams! Leipzig are in their first-choice white shirts and red shorts, which means Atletico sport an all-black change strip. We’ll be off in a minute or two!
Diego Costa: the debate. “Diego Simeone’s attention to detail is impressive,” begins Peter Oh. “The photo of the Atlético warm-up suggests that the players are practising that universal motion of disbelief at having witnessed a massive chance completely wasted. (See the PSG bench after Neymar missed that early sitter yesterday.)”
David L is more optimistic. “Simeone’s choice of Costa over Morata feels astute given the tournament format this year. Yes he’s a full-on red card liability (ask Emre for a reference) but he just might be the kind of rough-house goal pincher they need to get through to the semis. If he stays on the pitch of course.”
Leipzig opt to fill that big Timo Werner-shaped gap with Yussuf Poulsen. Emil Forsberg has to make do with a place on the bench.
A big decision up front by Atletico, too. No place in the starting XI for Alvaro Morata, as Diego Costa is given the nod.
RB Leipzig: Gulacsi, Klostermann, Upamecano, Halstenberg, Laimer, Sabitzer, Kampl, Angelino, Olmo, Poulsen, Nkunku.
Subs: Orban, Haidara, Forsberg, Adams, Lookman, Schick, Mukiele, Mvogo, Tschauner, Borkowski, Novoa, Wosz.
Atletico Madrid: Oblak, Trippier, Savic, Gimenez, Renan Lodi, Koke, Herrera, Saul, Carrasco, Llorente, Costa.
Subs: Adan, Arias, Thomas, Joao Felix, Morata, Lemar, Saponjic, Felipe, Vitolo, Hermoso, Manuel Sanchez, Moya.
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland).
Somewhere in the multiverse of infinite outcome and opportunity, a rerun of last year’s final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will be played out tonight. But here on Planet Reality, the conquerors of the reigning champions and last season’s runners up face each other at the Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon for the right to play Paris Saint-Germain in next Tuesday’s semi-final.
Leipzig battered Spurs in the round of 16. Julian Nagelsmann’s exciting side won 1-0 in north London, then 3-0 back home, reaching the club’s very first European Cup quarter-final in style. Atletico meanwhile saw off Liverpool after weathering a second-half storm at Anfield, then putting their foot on the gas the minute opportunity arose in extra-time, a Diego Simeone masterclass.
Atletico can play a wee bit as well, of course. They’ve won the Europa League twice under Simeone, while falling a few seconds then a couple of penalties short of winning the big one against city rivals Real in 2014 and 2016. With all that experience and pedigree, they’re marginal favourites tonight. Especially as Leipzig are going into battle without their most dependable goalscorer, Timo Werner, who has controversially decamped to Chelsea.
But as you may have already read in your super soaraway Guardian, Leipzig have never been a one-man band. And while Simeone is undoubtedly one of the best managers in the world, his opposite number Nagelsmann is, at 33, regarded as the brightest of the up-and-coming. Also, Atletico have a small but cumbersome load on their shoulders: they’ve lost five of their last six against Bundesliga clubs outside Spain.
This, then, my dear MBM pals, is poised deliciously. Not least because it’s a one-off tie. It could go to extra time. It could go to penalties. It could explode with passion and drama. It’s on!
Kick off: 8pm BST, 8pm in Lisbon.