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Friday, 04 December 2020

Atletico Madrid's Joao Felix finds scoring form for Liverpool trip

AP , Monday 9 Mar 2020
Felix
Atletico Madrid's Portuguese forward Joao Felix (L) vies with Sevilla's Spanish midfielder Jesus Navas during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Sevilla FC at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on March 7, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
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Time off appears to have been just what Joao Felix needed.

With two goals in three matches, Felix has given a much-needed boost to Atletico Madrid's attack before it visits Liverpool on Wednesday with a chance to eliminate the reigning European champion from the tournament.

Atletico's defense clamped down on Liverpool and ground out a 1-0 victory in the first leg of their round-of-16 encounter two weeks ago.

But at Anfield, the Spanish club will likely have a tougher time of keeping a clean sheet and need to do even more in attack.

Felix missed the first leg while recovering from a right-leg muscle injury that sidelined him for four games. He can now join Alvaro Morata, Diego Costa, and Angel Correa as options up front.

Atletico made a big investment for Felix last summer when it spent a club-record 126 million euros (then $143 million) to buy him from Benfica, where had enjoyed a breakout last season.

But after a promising start, the 20-year-old Felix was clearly frustrated by a scoring drought before he was forced off the pitch because of the injury last month.

Once he was fit again, he scored as a substitute in his return two weeks ago, a 3-1 win over Villarreal. He then struck another goal in his first start since coming back in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Sevilla. Before those two goals he hadn't found the net since December.

He played so well against Sevilla that some fans jeered Diego Simeone when he substituted Félix late.

"He had some cramps in his calf, but I couldn't explain that to the fans," Simeone said. "He played a good match, above all being consistent in his performance, although what makes our supporters happy is when he scores."

VAR DECISIVE

The video review, which is in its second season in La Liga, played an important role in deciding the outcomes of three matches on the weekend.

Four penalties, one in Barcelona's 1-0 win over Real Sociedad, another in Leganés' 2-1 win at Villarreal, and two more in Sevilla's draw with Atlético, were all called after the video assistant referee notified the referee of infractions.

Lionel Messi scored a penalty for Barcelona for a handball that had gone unnoticed until it was spotted on video review. Atlético's Álvaro Morata and Sevilla forward Lucas Ocampos also converted from the spot following long delays for reviews. Lastly, Óscar Rodríguez took his second goal for Leganés after the VAR saw a Villarreal player trip an opponent.

Even though Messi's goal swung an evenly contested game in Barcelona's favor, Sociedad coach Imanol Aguacil was not to complain.

``Today, more than ever, I have maximum respect for referees,'' Aguacil said. ``It's the most difficult job in soccer. If he saw a penalty, it's because that is what it was.''

Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui, however, questioned the stoppages of play.

``To spend three minutes to decide if it is a penalty or not means it is not a clear situation,`` Lopetegui said. ``It breaks the rhythm of the match.''

MESSI ANTIDOTE?

When Messi lines up to take a free kick near the area, opponents fear for the worst.

But Sociedad came up with an innovative, and eye-catching, strategy to try to stop his strikes from set pieces.

Instead of placing several players in a defensive barrier that Messi rarely has trouble dipping the ball over, Sociedad only used a three-man wall while deploying one man at each post.

The extra twist was putting another four players in a semi-circle around the edge of the six-yard box, and have all of Sociedad's players near the net bounce as Messi took his strike.

The Argentine's shot fell into the six-yard box and was headed clear.

``We had been working on it,'' Aguacil said of that tactic that other teams will surely take notice of.

``You all know how effective Messi is (from free kicks). So we tried something different, and luckily for us, it worked.''

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

 
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