Atletico Madrid 1-0 Liverpool
Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid put in one of their characteristically gritty displays tonight to stop the Liverpool juggernaut and take a 1-0 first-leg lead to Anfield.
It was the Reds’ first appearance at the Wanda Metropolitano since that famous night last June when they lifted the Champions League trophy. But, after Saul Niguez had given Los Rojiblancs an early lead, they rarely threatened to break down the hosts, failing to get a crucial away goal.
Manchester United’s Premier League win over Chelsea last night means that Liverpool have already qualified for next season’s Champions League. But Jurgen Klopp said the Reds’ league form would be irrelevant in terms of their European campaign, and specifically this tie against Atletico Madrid.
And he was right!
Highlights of the game
After a slow start to their group campaign, Atleti worked hard to reach the round of 16 and they had the perfect opening tonight. They attacked from the off and won a corner on four minutes. The cross bounced off Fabinho and fell to Saul Niguez, who stabbed it home from close range.
VAR took a look, but Virgil van Dijk had played Saul onside and the Wanda Metropolitano crowd celebrated again. What a start!
Midway through the half, Alvaro Morata had a chance from a tight angle. He brought it back onto his right foot and fired, but Alisson made a great save.
Liverpool had the ball in the net a minute later when the Atleti keeper Jan Oblak fluffed a clearance straight to Mo Salah who passed to Roberto Firmino. But the Brazilian was offside when he rolled the ball back for Salah to slot home, and the flag went straight up.
Despite dominating possession for most of the first half, the Reds had failed to register a single shot on target.
Liverpool had a good chance early in the second half when Joe Gomez swung a superb cross into the danger area. Salah met it at the near post, but his header flashed wide when we expected the net to bulge.
And Atleti should have doubled their lead midway through the second half. Renan Lodi pulled a great ball back to Alvaro Morata, but just as he was about to fire the ball home he slipped and lost the chance.
Then, with 15 minutes remaining Liverpool came closest when Divock Origi crossed to Jordan Henderson, but he volleyed inches wide of Oblak’s post.
Liverpool had over 75 per cent of the ball in the first half but didn’t test Oblak once, while Los Rojiblancos had two shots on target. And as Atleti stifled the Reds in the second half, neither side tested the keepers.
Simeone won’t mind that one bit. This was a huge performance and one which ended Liverpool’s 14-match unbeaten run while extending Atleti’s unbeaten home record to six.
Saul is the man for Atleti. The Madrid side has never lost a match in which he has scored, winning 33 and drawing four…incredible!
The action keeps on coming for SBOTOP Champions League fans, with 2019 losing finalists Spurs kicking off their round of 16 tie against RB Leipzig tomorrow night.
The big Champions League 2020 news of the last five days was the announcement that the UEFA have banned Manchester City for two years. Whether that will stand up in court is another question, but I bet UEFA bosses will hope Real Madrid can oust the Sky Blues in the tie of the round!
Back to domestic matters, Los Rojiblancos need a strong finish to their league season to guarantee Champions League football again next year. They currently hold that fourth spot, but only ahead of Sevilla on goal difference while Real Sociedad are only three points further back.
On Sunday, they are at home to sixth-placed Villarreal; it’s a game they need to win to remain on track.
And what of Liverpool? Well, Klopp’s men are at home to struggling West Ham, who are due to be softened up by Manchester City tomorrow night. These are worrying times for the Hammers and their stress is unlikely to ease at Anfield.
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