Atletico Madrid will hope for a tighter contest against Liverpool in the Champions League after playing out a frantic 2-2 draw against Sevilla on Saturday.
Joao Felix looked as sharp at the Wanda Metropolitano as he has done all season and completed a four-minute comeback for Atletico after Alvaro Morata’s penalty cancelled out Luuk de Jong’s opener for Sevilla.
But Lucas Ocampos levelled with another penalty at the end of a pulsating first half, again with the help of VAR after a foul by Kieran Trippier, whose involvement at Anfield on Wednesday could be in doubt.
Trippier took treatment after a heavy challenge from Nemanja Gudelj in the second half and while he finished the game, the full-back appeared restricted in his movement.
The draw will be more gratefully received by Sevilla, who sit third in La Liga and two points ahead of Atletico, who are fifth after missing an opportunity to close the gap.
Yet while the top four is by no means a guarantee for Diego Simeone’s side, the Champions League has assumed even greater importance with La Liga’s title race firmly out of reach.
Since their surprise 1-0 home win over Liverpool earlier this month, Atletico have struggled to sustain momentum, having beaten Villarreal, drawn away at struggling Espanyol and now been held by Sevilla.
But they are full of hope, after welcoming back key players from injury and watching from afar as Jurgen Klopp’s side have endured a rocky couple of weeks in England.
Felix’s performance will have been especially encouraging, the Portugese capping an excellent display with his second goal in three games since returning from a month out and now looking likely to start against Liverpool.
Diego Costa is also fit again and would be a more conservative option if Simeone opts for physicality over creativity alongside Morata, who scored his first goal in eight weeks.
Sevilla’s coach Julen Lopetegui was whistled by Atletico’s fans before kick-off for his brief spell at Real last season and he has been under pressure from his own fans too after a disappointing few weeks.
Yet De Jong put Sevilla in the 19th minute when he fooled Stefan Savic into an attempted interception by taking Joan Jordan’s pass on his back foot, before firing past Jan Oblak.
But a frantic end to the half saw Atletico score twice in four minutes as Morata converted a penalty after the ball was adjudged to have hit Diego Carlos on the shoulder and then Felix drove in after being picked out by Koke.
The lead lasted only seven minutes as Sevilla drew level before half-time. Oblak managed to scoop out Jordan’s header at the near post but VAR showed Kieran Trippier to have fouled Ocampos in the chaos that followed.
Trippier kicked through the back of Ocampos, who made no mistake with the spot-kick, ensuring the game hung in the balance at half-time.
Trippier himself required treatment from physios following a hefty challenge from Guidelj and while the full-back continued, he never looked entirely comfortable thereafter.
Atletico were the ones pushing hardest for a winner but Vitolo ballooned a loose ball over the bar and Saul Niguez headed wide at the back post. They will have to be more clinical at Anfield.