Atlético Madrid produced the perfect home performance as they defeated Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, Madrid in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
Story of the game
Atléti knew an early goal would be the perfect start to achieving the seemingly impossible task of defeating the reigning champions and that was exactly what they got.
Koke whipped in a dangerous corner on the 4th-minute mark which evaded the Liverpool defence and found its way to the feet of Saúl Ñíguez who coolly finished past Alisson to give El Cholo’s side the lead.
15 minutes later, Atlético were inches away from doubling their advantage as Brazilian left-back Renan Lodi’s wicked cross was cut out by Andy Robertson at the last second with Álvaro Morata lurking around the back.
Liverpool’s first real chance of the game came 10 minutes before the interval as the famous trio of Mané, Firmino and Salah combined. Sadio Mané was able to evade the Atléti defenders, pick out Firmino who produced a nutmeg-pass into the path of Salah whose left-footed strike looked destined for the top corner but for a vital block from Felipe.
Just after the hour, Álvaro Morata bluffed his lines in a seemingly unmissable position in what was his last action of the game. The perfect Atléti counter saw Liverpool men out of shape and Morata free in the box but the man on loan from Chelsea slipped at the vital moment to give the Reds a lifeline.
Ten minutes later it was Liverpool who threatened as Jordan Henderson met a Divock Origi cross with a volley inside the box, but the skipper’s effort fell just wide of Jan Oblak’s goal.
That proved to be all she wrote in the first leg of this UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie, with Atlético taking a one-goal advantage going into the reverse fixture at Anfield in a months’ time.
Key takeaways from the match
Simeone hasn’t lost it
The Argentinian is known for his defensive masterplans against Europe’s elite and tonight was just another performance to go into an already full scrapbook of Champions League victories.
The rigid 4-4-2 formation, which was deployed by both Red Star Belgrade and Napoli, was as compact as compact could be.
Simeone instructed his side to allow the usually outstanding Liverpool full-backs to have the ball, knowing any cross into the box would be instantly met by a man in red and white.
The early goal was all El Cholo wanted and for the remaining 86 minutes, the game consisted of 10-men behind the ball and Simeone acting as a conductor to the Wanda Metropolitano crowd, constantly lifting his arms up to increase the noise levels in the stadium.
Klopp will be well aware of Simeone’s game plan come the second leg and vice versa. One factor El Cholo cannot prepare for is the relentless Anfield crowd on a European night under the lights.
Nothing is won yet
It seems the example of Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona will be pulled up for decades to come when a side are looking for inspiration but in truth, this Liverpool side don’t need ‘inspiration’.
They know their jobs and they’re pretty good at it. When the spotlight is on them, when the eyes of the world are watching, they usually perform.
The full-time celebrations from Simeone’s men would have been met with a smirk by one or two of the Liverpool players and rightly so, they know something the Atlético lads don’t… The power of Anfield.
Not convinced? Ask Lionel Messi.
Klopp: “Our people will be ready, I know that. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet..”
Man of the Match
Saúl Ñíguez (Atlético Madrid)
The Atléti academy graduate has scored many a big goal for his home-town club and tonight’s against Jürgen Klopp’s all-conquering Reds will be right up there. The twenty-five-year-old was brilliant in every area of the pitch, providing a calming influence in such an intense game.
Saúl produced 23 accurate passes during the 90 minutes of play with a pass success rate of 85% which is pretty good going against a Liverpool side who are constantly in your face throughout the entire game.
One thing is for sure, Klopp will be hoping the Spaniard has an off day in three weeks’ time.