In the words of Atletico boss Diego Simeone, “Atletico started beating Liverpool on the roundabout to the stadium. Supporters lined the streets outside the stadium, lit flares and chanted at great volume as the European and world champions’ bus arrived for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie”.
The atmosphere at the Wanda Metropolitano was electric and the Atletico boss himself attested to the fact, saying he had never seen a reception like that since taking over eight years, ago, adding that the atmosphere deserved nothing short of a win from him and his boys.
The home team set out with a 4-4-2 formation with teenage wonderkid, Joao Felix, absent due to injury.
Liverpool also played with their usual 4-3-3 formation with Mane, Salah and Firminho leading the attack.
The game started with the home team on the front foot. They piled on pressure and were rewarded with a corner kick which resulted in an early goal scored by Saúl Ñíguez. The early goal roused the Metropolitano even more as they sang their hearts out even after the final whistle was blown.
Immediately after the goal, Atletico quickly switched tactics to defensive mode, and repelled every single Liverpool attack.
The visitors ended the game with no shots on target. This statistic gives a very fair idea of how good Atletico were on the night.
Aside man of the match, Renan Lodi, the Atletico player who shone the most was Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey. He completed 72% of 36 passes, made 2 key passes, completed 2/2 dribbles and finished the game, making 18 recoveries and one interception.
After taking the lead, every time there was a set-piece opportunity, Atletico committed not more than three players into the box, leaving the rest outside the box and the back four on the halfway line, to repel any counter attacks.
For the defending champions, Liverpool, it was simply a bad day at the office. Nothing seemed to be working for them. Diego Simeone and his men found a response for every single attack thrown at them.
Two of the worst affected players on the day were Sadio Mane and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The latter, who is one of the best crossers of the ball managed to complete only three out of 17 crosses.
Sadio Mane also had a stinker and was taken off at half time by Jurgen Klopp after receiving a yellow card just before the break.
Indeed, even the best and most efficient cars experience a few technical difficulties from time to time.
At the end of the match, Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, expressed his displeasure at his team’s performance on the night, admitting that they just weren’t good enough in the final third, wasting all their chances.
“I’m not disappointed with how we played. I saw many worse games in my life. We just weren’t good enough in the final third. But it’s only 1-0; we aren’t down and out. As long as we have 11 players with a Liverpool shirt, anything can happen. For all the Atlético fans who get an away ticket: Welcome to Anfield.”
The Atletico boss also had this to say after the match; “It’s not the best night ever because we didn’t win a trophy. But there are nights you don’t forget. The best side in the world came here, and we beat them. But it’s only one game down, one to go.”
Also, he added that he was well aware of the fortress that is Anfield, saying that he and his men would play with a lot of humility.
The return leg already promises to be one of the most exciting nights of football this season because history seems to be almost balanced between the two teams.
Atletico was the last spanish team to knock Liverpool out of the Champions’ League although under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool have never lost a two-legged Champions League tie.
In fact, Liverpool have won their last 11 two-legged European ties, qualifying included. They have not lost a knockout phase tie in the UEFA Champions League since Chelsea beat them 7-5 on aggregate in the 2008/09 quarter-finals.
With the return of their wonderkid, Joao Felix, set to occur before the second leg, Atletico would be going into the game with a wildcard up their sleeve, and it will be interesting to observe how Diego Simeone will set up his team, whether he will set out with a defensive or offensive approach.
Will he be looking to grab another ealy goal and defend to the death again? We will find out come March 11th 2020.
On the night, Liverpool will be without their captain Jordan Henderson who picked up a knock during the EPL.
African midfielder, Joel Matip, however is expected to be back in the starting line up, soon. So, it’s almost likely Klopp will field him in replacement of his trustworthy captain.
He will also be counting on the Kop, as Liverpool fans like to call themselves, to sing their hearts out on the night and urge their gallant warriors on to victory.
COMPILED BY: Selom Yao
SOURCES: kuulpeeps.com/ uefa.com/ goal.com