Liverpool’s Champions League hopes lie in the balance after an early Atletico goal gave the Spanish side a 1-0 aggregate advantage going into the second leg.
Atletico starting XI: Oblak; Vrsaljko, Savic, Felipe, Lodi; Koke, Thomas, Saul, Lemar; Correa, Morata.
Liverpool starting XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold; Gomez; Van Dijk; Robertson; Fabinho; Wijnaldum; Henderson; Salah; Firmino; Mane.
The Reds went into their clash against Athleti with arguably their strongest starting XI, with Fabinho and Mane both back fit again to start the game.
Atletico were without Portuguese wonderkid Joao Felix, but were boosted by the return of the pantomime villain, Diego Costa (BELOW).
The last time Jurgen Klopp and his players were in the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, they lifted the Champions League trophy.
Although the territory was familiar, the opposition was not. This was the first time in 10 years that the two sides had met in European competition.
The home side started strongly. With Diego Simeone conducting the red and white orchestra in the stands, his players piled on the pressure early on.
Six minutes in, their fast start payed off.
A corner from the right-hand side went over the heads of the Liverpool defenders at the front post. The ball ricocheted off the foot of Fabinho, leaving Saul Niguez with a tap in 5 yards from goal.
Athletico were ahead. Liverpool now faced a tough task against a side with a reputation for being incredibly difficult to break down when protecting a lead.
Despite the Reds controlling the majority of the ball, it was their opponents that looked the more likely to score as they threatened on the counter attack.
It took smart defending from Andy Robertson at the back post to deny Alvaro Morata. The former Chelsea striker looked set to tap in a brilliant Lodi cross before the Scotsman intervened acrobatically.
Morata was in again shortly after, with only sharp goalkeeping from Alisson at his near post keeping the score at 1-0
Liverpool did see the ball hit the back of the net, only for it to be ruled out for offside. Firmino’s lay off for Mo Salah to finish was rightly judged to have come from an offside position
Atletico remained robust. Salah saw his effort destined for the top corner blocked by the Brazilian Felipe after great link up play between Mane and Firmino down the right.
It was turning into an unusually frustrating night for the Premier League champions elect.
The usually stellar service from Trent Alexander-Arnold was a miss and the theatrics of the opposition players must’ve led to an interesting half time team talk from Klopp and his coaching staff.
It was clear Liverpool had to do more to break down this red and white fortress.
The Red’s were dealt a blow even before the game restarted, with the mercurial Mane being withdrawn as a precaution for Divock Origi.
The German manager’s team talk must have resonated somewhat, as his side upped the intensity.
Prolonged pressure from Liverpool resulted in Salah spurning a great chance to level the game. Joe Gomez crossed from deep and the Egyptian glanced his header wide.
That turned out to be the 2018 African footballer of the year’s last contribution of the night.
The forward was withdrawn for Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and the away side changed formation to a 4-2-3-1, with ‘The Ox’ down the left, Henderson being pushed out to the right and Firmino dropping behind Origi into an attacking midfield role.
The change of shape brought around the Merseysider’s best chance of the game.
Quick, incisive passing down the right culminated in Origi finding space in the box. His cross found Henderson who’s volley skidded wide of the post.
The Liverpool skipper was forced off with injury at this stage of the competition last season away in Munich.
The 29-year-old must’ve had déjà vu as he needed to be replaced by James Milner after going off with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring.
Simeone continued to rile up the home support in an attempt to push his team over the line.
The Liverpool gaffer was booked late on after becoming incensed with the dubious decisions of referee Syzmon Marciniak in favor of Los Rojiblancos.
Although not at their best tonight, the tie is still very much in the balance going into the second leg at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp will be confident, judging from many past experiences, that his ‘Mentality Monsters’ will be more than capable of overcoming a 1-0 deficit.
Although maybe not the side that they once were, the red-and-whites proved tonight that they are a formidable foe. The return leg will pose Liverpool’s biggest test of the season when they face each other again on the 11th March.