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New format negates Atletico’s Champions League experience

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Soccer Football - Champions League - RB Leipzig Training - Estadio Jose Alvalade, Lisbon, Portugal - August 12, 2020 RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann during training Miguel A. Lopes/Pool via REUTERS

Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann said yesterday that he believes the new format of the Champions League will level the playing field in their quarter-final with experienced European competitors Atletico Madrid.

Leipzig, founded in 2009, are in the Champions League’s knock-out stages for the first time in the club’s brief history and face Atletico on Thursday.

In contrast, the La Liga side reached the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals, losing both times to Real Madrid, and won the Europa League in 2012 and 2018 under head coach Diego Simeone.

However, the Champions League’s new format ― one-off knock-out games instead of two-leg ties ― sees both teams step into the unknown.

“We know that they have a lot of experience over two legs, but anything can happen in just one game,” Nagelsmann said yesterday.

“We will all be thrown into cold water, because of this situation, so experience isn’t as big a factor as it might have been.”

Nagelsmann is without his main goalscorer Timo Werner, who scored 34 times last season including four in the Champions League before joining Chelsea in June.

In his absence, Leipzig’s forward line is likely to be led by Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen and Czech Republic striker Patrik Schick, who is carrying a knock, but Nagelsmann was keeping his cards close to his chest.

“We don’t have Werner and I won’t say who will start,” said Nagelsmann.

“But we have players who didn’t play when Werner was here who will now get their chance.”

‘Physical’ Atletico

Leipzig were still in Germany’s third tier as recently as 2013-14 and this is arguably the biggest game in the history of the fledgling club.

“If you look at our side, we have a few players who have played more than four or five years at this club,” said Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.

“It’s another chance to show our strength in Europe. We have a lot of confidence and we’ll try to show our qualify for the semis.”

Nagelsmann revealed he is wary of the “physical” presence of Madrid’s centre-backs Jose Gimenez and Stefan Savic.

“We obviously want to look get down the sides and move the ball out wide to find gaps in their backline”.

Leipzig could potentially face Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich, who play Barcelona on Friday, in the Champions League final, but Nagelsmann refused to think too far ahead.

“Of course an all-German final would be brilliant for Germany, but we aren’t thinking further ahead than tomorrow.”

Atletico coach Diego Simeone, meanwhile told his side not to dwell on their last-16 victory over Liverpool in March which knocked out the defending champions.

“A lot of months have passed, and all the excitement and turmoil that arose after the win over Liverpool has died down a bit because of the 100-plus days we’ve been in quarantine,” said the Argentine yesterday.

“Then with La Liga it all seems like far away now. It will remain part of the history of Atletico Madrid. But now, a new journey begins tomorrow (Thursday).” ― AFP