Analysis: Liverpool trail, but know exactly what they have to do at Anfield
 (Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Diego Simeone's gameplan was executed to near-perfection as Atletico Madrid gained the upper hand on Liverpool in their Champions League Round of 16 tie.

It was truly a dream start for the hosts, the ball breaking to Saul for an unmissable opportunity after just four minutes.

Thereafter, as the saying goes, the bus was parked. And it was parked to great effect. Liverpool failed to register a shot on target for the first time since defeat away at Napoli in October 2018. 

All that was missing for Atletico was the breakaway second goal, with Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa both squandering significant openings - moments they might well live to regret. 

Liverpool's performance assessed

On the face of it, this appears another lacklustre away display from a side whose unbeaten knockout record under Jurgen Klopp masks their inconsistency on the road.

In reality, it was a decent effort. Liverpool totally dominated possession and probed with patience.

It should be stressed that, though the old guard may have been partially dismantled, Atletico retain the air of an established European outfit and, in Simeone, they have arguably the best organiser in world football. 

Failing to break them down should not be a source of shame. 

They did pry the door open on a couple of occasions, but Mohamed Salah glanced Joe Gomez's superb cross wide before Jordan Henderson hooked Divock Origi's ball-in just past the post. 

Lack of invention costs Reds

Invariably, when a team struggles up against a regimented defensive set-up, they are criticised for pedestrian passing play. 

Those accusations were levelled here, and perhaps Liverpool could have shifted it the ball more quickly, but what really hurt them was the lack of variety in their play.

Atletico set-up to neutralise the Liverpool threat from wide areas, and they largely succeeded. 

The Reds are accustomed to such countermeasures given the potency of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, but here they could not find a separate route to goal.

And they looked particularly tame when the cautioned Sadio Mane and the frustrated Salah were substituted.

This game was played on Atletico's terms, and with the aid of the perfected science of gamesmanship, they saw it out. 

Next time...

There are no prizes for guessing how Simeone will approach the second leg. Expect to see the lines of four gradually retreating toward the Kop. 

As Liverpool pile on concerted pressure, he will anticipate potentially decisive counters.

Klopp went with his most trusted midfield lieutenants here, but next time he will be very tempted to deploy Naby Keita in a central role, offering his team a fresh creative dimension. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will also be in contention.

Atletico will be braced for a fresh barrage of Robertson and Alexander-Arnold deliveries, so Liverpool need new ways to hurt them.

Of course, the Anfield cauldron will be as great a factor as the raucous and relentless Wanda Metropolitano atmosphere conducted by Simeone. Klopp sounded such a warning in his post-match interview.

But this awesome willpower alone may not be enough to overcome a supremely well-drilled and equally motivated opponent.

The holders remain the rightful favourites to progress, but the pre-match appraisal of this tie as their toughest possible R16 test has been proven accurate. 

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