Liverpool’s return to the Wanda Metropolitano saw the Reds fall to a 1-0 defeat against a well-drilled and organised Atlético Madrid side in the first leg of their last 16 UEFA Champions League tie.
Jürgen Klopp made two changes from the side that notched all three points away at Norwich at the weekend, with Sadio Mané making his return to the first team in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Fabinho being preferred to Naby Keïta in the heart of midfield.
A far from ideal start for the Reds saw the home side take the lead in the opening four minutes through Saúl Ñiguez.
A needless corner given away by Virgil van Dijk saw the ball delivered deep into the Liverpool box and the Reds were unable to clear. The ball deflected off the leg of Fabinho and bobbled into the direction of Saúl who blasted the ball into the empty net from a couple of yards out. 1-0 Atléti after four minutes.
Liverpool responded well to going behind, completely bossing possession and penning Atlético back deep into their own half.
Despite seeing most, if not all of the ball, the Reds were repeatedly left frustrated by the highly organised Atlético backline as the Spanish side, in typical fashion, limited the space in between the lines and remained compact in their shape.
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With this being said, Atléti showed that they were still capable of causing their visitors problems on the counter-attack, with Alisson needing to stand tall and save from Álvaro Morata following another uncharacteristic mistake from van Dijk halfway through the first 45.
Following Alisson’s intervention, the Reds again took control of the ball and finally managed some shots through both Andrew Robertson and Fabinho. However, the attempts did not trouble Jan Oblak, with Simeone no doubt pleased in his dugout as his side forced Liverpool’s first efforts of the game to be speculative and from long-range.
Soon after these attempts, Klopp’s men began to find some joy in and around the Atleti penalty area, with the home side needing Felipe to head clear a Mohamed Salah effort before Trent Alexander-Arnold flashed the ball across the face of goal in what had the potential to be an easy tap.
The Reds continued to push Atléti for the remainder of the half, and despite Oblak yet to have been tested, it seemed only a matter of time until Liverpool found an equaliser.
The start of the second half saw a host of substitutions, with the home side looking for more defensive cover via the introduction of Marcos Llorente, and Divock Origi coming on for Mané.
A scrappy start to the second half saw Liverpool almost concede after repeatedly giving the ball away on the edge of their own area, though they almost equalised through Salah mere minutes later.
Uncharacteristically struggling to produce quality from wide areas, Joe Gomez stepped out of defence and floated an inch-perfect ball into the Atleti penalty area and towards the arriving Salah. The Egyptian snuck in behind the Spanish defence and connected well with his head only to see his effort trickle just wide of Oblak’s near post.
Despite Liverpool’s clear attacking intent, as was witnessed in the first half, Atlético Madrid showed an ability to catch Liverpool out at the back, with Morata yet again being the man who was given the chance to bury the Reds.
A simple ball over the top saw Renan Lodi released down the left, with the wing-back fizzing a low ball in towards his Spanish striker. In acres of space and the goal at his mercy, Morata took his time to eye up the opportunity but slipped as he looked to connect with the ball to the relief of Klopp and co.
Liverpool reacted instantly with a chance of their own as captain Jordan Henderson, who has come up trumps on numerous occasions for the Reds this season, saw his acrobatic volley spin inches wide of Oblak’s net as the Reds continued to push for an equaliser.
As the clock ticked into the final 15 minutes, the game began to revert to a scrappy affair as Atléti looked to rustle Liverpool’s feathers and halt every attack by any means necessary.
Unlike in last season’s Champions League final, the Reds were unable to find the back of the net at the Wanda Metropolitano as Simeone’s men, who admittedly produced a defensive masterclass, held on to deny Liverpool an equaliser.
The defeat sees Liverpool require the magic of Anfield yet again if they are to qualify through to the next stage, with the Reds now having a month of domestic action until they welcome Atlético to Anfield for the second leg on March 11.
The Reds are next in action on February 24 when they return to Premier League action and welcome David Moyes’ West Ham United to Anfield.