Despite leading 2-0 through goals from Gini Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino, Atlético Madrid fought back to earn a 3-2 victory at Anfield and seal their qualification into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, thanks largely in part from an error by stand-in goalkeeper Adrián.
While Liverpool’s stopper struggled, Jan Oblak came to the rescue for the Spanish side by producing a string of tie-winning saves throughout the whole two hours of football.
Klopp made two changes to the side that overcame a stubborn Bournemouth side at the weekend, with captain Jordan Henderson and Andrew Robertson returning to the starting XI from injury, replacing Fabinho and James Milner.
The opening 20 minutes were very much as expected from the away side, Atléti came with a lead to defend and defend they did. Although breaking forward on rare occasions, the visitors started the match disciplined as they looked to defend deep in numbers and frustrate the Reds that were already looking to up the tempo and breakdown their defences.
As the game ticked on, the Spanish club’s counter-attacks become less and less frequent as the Anfield-backed Reds began to take control of the game, pinning the Spanish side back to the edge of the area and passing the ball side-to-side as they tried to carve out a chink in Diego Simeone’s armour.
With this being said, around the half-hour mark Atléti shifted their focus and pressed high to put the home side under pressure as they went in search of what would have been a vital away goal.
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Liverpool fought through this period of play, however, and almost took the lead on two separate occasions through Sadio Mané and then Roberto Firmino, had it not been for Jan Oblak in the Atléti net who was putting forward a good argument for the world’s best goalkeeper.
Oblak had come out on top throughout the half but the Slovenian ‘keeper could do nothing but watch as Gini Wijnaldum sent Anfield into delirium, heading Liverpool ahead on the night and level on aggregate in the 43rd minute.
Good link-up play on the wings between Mohamed Salah and the enigmatic Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain resulted in the English midfielder pulling back a curling cross from the byline. The ball bypassed the Atléti defence and honed in on the unmarked Wijnaldum who, similarly to his effort last season against Barcelona, rose high and directed his header into the corner of the net and past Oblak.
The goal could not have come at a better time for the hosts, with the away side looking dejected and stunned as the referee blew for half-time.
Klopp’s men started the second half in a similar vein to how they ended the first, subjecting the visitors to wave after wave of pressure as they looked to grab a second and take the lead in the tie.
Similarly to his first-half display, Oblak continued to prove time and time again why he is widely considered as one of the best goalkeepers in world football as the Atléti shot-stopper again denied Firmino who should have had the ball in the back of the net.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, the frame of the goal came to Atléti’s rescue on the occasion when they did beat Oblak, with Andy Robertson pouncing on a loose ball only to see his headed effort clatter off the crossbar to Anfield’s dismay.
With this being said, the waves of Red pressure were beginning to seep through the cracks in the Atléti wall as Oblak began to receive regular testing as did his defenders, with Kieran Trippier, in particular, being called upon on two occasions to provide goal-saving challenges.
As the minutes ticked on, both sides visibly began to tire as Liverpool’s pressure eased and the game became more of an even affair. As a result of this change in tempo by the home side, Atléti began to grow into the game as the clock ticked over into the final 10 minutes.
A piece of Mané magic almost had the game won for the Reds in the 85th minute as the Senegalese wideman went for the spectacular and attempted a bicycle kick in area. Having leapt well and connected sweetly, Anfield rose to excitement only to see his effort sail over the bar.
The Reds almost rued all their missed chances as the last kick of the 90 minutes saw Saúl Ñiguez head the ball into the back of the Liverpool net. Fortunately for Liverpool and to the joy of Anfield, the offside flag went up instantly and the goal was ruled out meaning that extra time was required to separate the two sides.
Despite having struggled to get past Oblak throughout the original 90, the Reds finally found their second goal within the first four minutes of extra time through Roberto Firmino.
Brilliant play yet again by Wijnaldum down the wing saw the Dutchman power past the Atléti wing-back before curling in a cross towards the Brazilian. Firmino rose high and headed goalwards, only to see his effort cannon off the bar. However, the Brazilian was alert to the chance and latched onto the loose ball to tap it into the empty net.
At 2-0 up on the night, the Reds would have gone through on aggregate. However, a mistake by Adrián allowed the Spanish side to get one back and once again take control of the tie.
A pass back by Alexander-Arnold was scuffed by the Spanish ‘keeper as he kicked the ball straight at João Félix. The Portuguese youngster played in Marcos Llorente who took a touch to set himself before bending it around the Spanish keeper and into the bottom corner.
It went from bad to worse for the hosts as Llorente had the ball in the back of the net again minutes later to put the visitors well in control of the tie.
An Álvaro Morata breakaway saw the former Chelsea striker lay it off to the midfield substitute who took a touch before driving at Joe Gomez. Llorente touched the ball to his right before curling a low driven shot around Adrián yet again to level the score and put the Spanish side 2-3 up on aggregate.
The second half of extra-time was a frustrating affair for the Reds as Atlético did what they do best. The Spanish side dug into their penalty area and invited pressure from the home side as they cleared every loose ball and held onto their vital aggregate lead.
Substitute Morata put the exclamation point on the result with an injury-time goal to ensure the win on the night, and make absolutely sure of progressing to the quarter-finals.
With Champions League football over for another season, Liverpool now turn their attention solely on the Premier League, with the Reds next in action on Monday night when they travel across Stanley Park to take on Everton in the Merseyside Derby.