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Champions League: Atleti Conquer Anfield

Liverpool 2-3 (2-4 on agg.) Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid pulled off a Champions League coup tonight, beating Liverpool thanks to three goals in extra time.

Atleti have the edge to qualify, but when Roberto Firmino put the Reds 2-0 up, that looked unlikely.

But up stepped Marcos Llorente, who bagged a brace, and Alvaro Morata, who added a third, to round off a sensational night for Diego Simeone’s Atletico.

 

Highlights of the game

Saul Niguez’ fourth-minute strike in Madrid gave Los Rojiblancos a first-leg lead, and the visitors had a chance to go further ahead in the opening minute when captain Koke slid a ball through for Diego Costa. The former Chelsea striker fired his shot just wide, though.

The Anfield crowd loves these European nights and tried to lift their team. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fired a low shot towards the far corner, but Jan Oblak got down well to save. Then, Atleti had another chance from a corner, but Felipe glanced Koke’s cross just wide.

The home fans roared for a penalty when Sadio Mane’s header bounced off Felipe’s hand, but at point-blank range, he had no advantage and VAR judged in Atleti’s favour.

The Spaniards were defending as well as expected, keeping their shape when Liverpool broke, and Joao Felix won two fouls as the hosts’ frustration grew.

Sadio Mane had a great chance when Mo Salah evaded a challenge from Renan Lodi and squared to Mane on the edge of the box, but the Senegalese striker shot straight at Oblak when he had the time to pick his spot. Then, when Trent Alexander-Arnold fired a dangerous cross in, Firmino was inches away from getting a vital touch.

Defending Champions League winners Liverpool failed to defend their crown as they bow out of the tournament
Georginio Wijnaldum celebrates after scoring the first goal of the match right before the half

The Reds finally got their goal two minutes before the break. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit an out-swinging cross, and Gini Wijnaldum met it with a header which skidded off the surface and past Oblak into the net.

With the tie on a knife-edge, both teams went for it in the second half. Oxlade-Chamberlain forced a good save from Oblak and, at the other end, Adrian had to save from Joao Felix and also made a block to deny Angel Correa.

Niguez tried to catch Adrian off his line from all of 60 yards and was only a few feet wide. And on 66 minutes, Andy Robertson met a cross from Salah and crashed his header against the bar.

Robertson had another chance on 82 minutes but he sliced his shot high and wide. Then, Salah almost scored a wonder goal, beating two defenders and cutting inside but he couldn’t keep his shot down. And as extra time loomed, Mane fired an overhead kick that was just too high.

In the last move of normal time, Saul headed home a Lodi cross but Liverpool were saved by the offside flag.

Anfield erupted again in the fourth minute of extra time when Gini Wijnaldum crossed for Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian’s header bounced back off the post and he reacted superbly to fire home the rebound.

But then the famous old ground fell silent. Just three minutes later, Adrian’s weak kick was collected by Felix, who put Marcos Llorente in and he shot low into the corner beyond the keeper’s despairing dive.

The Reds needed another goal, but things soon got worse for the home fans. It was Llorente again who found time and space to curl a 20-yard effort just inside the post to send the visiting fans and bench wild.

And when Alvaro Morata played a one-two with Llorente before slotting the ball past Adrian, it rounded off a famous night for Atletico.

 

Key statistics

The Reds really should have won this game in 90 minutes, raining 26 shots down on Atleti’s goal with nine on target, but Oblak stood firm. And Firmino’s extra-time goal was his first at Anfield this season. But it wasn’t to be Liverpool’s night as Llorente stunned the hosts.

 

What’s next?

In tonight’s other game, thousands of PSG fans gathered outside the Parc des Princes, armed with flares, to cheer on their team which faced Borussia Dortmund behind the closed doors.

They were picking up the Champions League 2020 updates on their phones and a mighty roar went up when Neymar put them ahead in the first half. Juan Bernat added a second to take the Parisians through.

The very latest Champions League news had FC Bayern and Liverpool behind Manchester City as favourites, but on this evidence, I wouldn’t rule out Atleti.

Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have missed out on both domestic cups, so a long holiday looms once they have won the Premier League.

If Burnley can do the Reds a favour by beating Manchester City on Saturday, then it’s quite possible Liverpool could win their first league title in 30 years in the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park next Monday.

Los Rojiblancos have a battle on their hands to confirm a top-four place in La Liga. They currently sit in sixth place but are only two points behind Sevilla in third. Two away games against Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna, currently tenth and 11th and both with two wins in the last four, will pose a good test of Atleti’s top-four credentials.

But tonight…they celebrate!

 

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