Atletico Madrid 1-0 Liverpool: Call Saul better! Niguez scores Champions League winner in first stage
Look, they came back from 3-0 against Barcelona. This is Anfield, you remember. The place where miracles happen. Yet something about the pure curses of Atletico Madrid suggests that placing two beyond them, even for Liverpool at home, will be just as difficult as the four against the Catalans.
This was a stunning Madrid rear-guard fight, all the more impressive by the duration of their endurance after just a four-minute lead. Taking into account the injury time, they had to stand for 90 minutes plus against the best attacking team in Europe. They did it. Not beautiful, not always comfortable, but with determination that is rare nowadays: the determination to defend easily.
The best from Jose Mourinho’s side is possible, and the best from Diego Simeone. These days they are almost alone, as elite coaches. Liverpool works hard, but their emphasis is on progress. Other Champions League participants emphasize aesthetics. Atletico Madrid scored early and, as the saying goes, silence shop. There are few shopping hatches in modern football. This was really pretty in its own way; certainly unique.
Liverpool’s bid to defend their Champions League title suffered a setback on Tuesday as they were beaten 1-0
Saul played Virgil van Dijk’s onside, knocked on a loose ball in the box and finished calmly past a helpless Alisson
The Spanish midfielder roars with pleasure as he drives off to celebrate with home fans after scoring the opening goal
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk looks on after seeing his party concede the first goal in the draw in the Spanish capital
Jurgen Klopp cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines when his attack in Liverpool was kept at bay all night by Atletico
EQUAL FACTS AND PLAYER REVIEWS
Atletico Madrid: Oblak 6, Vrsaljko 6, Felipe 7, Savic 6, Renan Lodi 8, Saul 8.5, Koke 7, Thomas 7, Lemar 6 (Llorente 46), Morata 6.5 (Vitolo 69), Correa 5.5 (Costa 76).
Subs not used: Adan, Gimenez, Carrasco, Hermoso.
goals: Saul 4
Manager: Diego Simeone 8
Liverpool: Alisson 6, Alexander-Arnold 6, Gomez 7, van Dijk 6, Robertson 7, Henderson 6 (Milner 79), Fabinho 6, Wijnaldum 6, Salah 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 71), Firmino 6.5, Mane 6 (Origi 46).
Subs not used: Keita, Adrian, Minamino, Matip.
Bookings: Mane, Gomez
Manager: Jurgen Klopp 7
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland) 8
Reviews by Pete Jenson in the Wanda Metropolitano
This was only the second match of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool tenure, in which his team couldn’t get a shot at goal and showed his frustration.
He was booked by referee Szymon Marciniak, from Poland, who hurried from the far field to the technical area to wave the card. Klopp’s voice must have some bearing noise, given the noise in the stadium, or a long-suffering civil servant must finally get tired and sound the alarm. Klopp has the tongue in his ears when things are not going well.
Before the game, he said he was a four on the madness scale compared to Diego Simeone’s 12, and it’s hard to disagree to see the Argentinian in action again.
When he didn’t shout at his players, he shouted at the crowd to shout more himself. A favorite moment took place in the first half when a ball came into contact. Simeone picked it up, decided he didn’t like it, threw it away as a Wimbledon midfield player and ordered the ball boy to throw a reserve into the game.
What is indisputable, however, is that under this hectic display there is a coach with the best drilled team in Europe.
There is a reason why Simeone is the highest paid club manager in the world and it was made clear here. He has a clear disadvantage in his national competition, not to mention throughout Europe, his club continues to lose its best players to big rivals, he doesn’t have a world-class goal scorer these days, but somehow he might have Atletico Madrid the most difficult team to beat in this competition, especially at home.
The two teams stand together after leaving the field in a hostile atmosphere in the Spanish capital
Managers Diego Simeone (left) and Klopp (right) were all smiling when they shared a hug on the sidelines before the kick-off
Joe Gomez of Liverpool tries to get away from Atletico striker Alvaro Morata in the early stages of the encounter
Sadio Mane is lucky enough to escape from a yellow card while flying to Atletico’s Sime Vrsaljko with his foot high in the air
Liverpool had to pay because he was unable to clear his lines when Saul reacted the quickest to put the ball in the opposite corner
Saul kisses his wrist and points to heaven after he has netted the opener for the side of Diego Simeone at the Wanda Metropolitano
They have not admitted in 11 of their last 12 Champions League home knockout games and the moment they took an early lead here, it was clearly the kind of night Liverpool had in store.
Koke, the captain and a fine, imaginative midfielder, immediately fell into surrogate right back to handle Andy Robertson; on the other side, Trent Alexander-Arnold was kept at a distance, just as a champion boxer deals with a dangerous opponent. He could not reach the Madrid goal and was reduced to hitting hopeful balls from the depth that often flew too long. He could not find his reach and Liverpool often could not.
In the first 30 minutes they managed to make one touch between them in the Atletico penalty area. Their only chance in the first half was a shot by Mo Salah that was deflected by Felipe for a corner. It’s hard to remember when Liverpool looked less threatening. They have not even lagged behind in 21 competitions in all competitions, since following Napoli on November 27.
That changed here after just four minutes. Madrid won a corner swept by Koke and turned off Fabinho, who looked a bit rusty after missing a part of the season due to an injury. The ball twisted towards Saul Niguez, who turned it past Alisson from close by. For a short time it seemed that VAR could intervene, but even if Fabinho’s touch was completely unintentionally governed, Virgil van Dijk put aside the man from Madrid. The Liverpool players looked in vain at the big screen. No delay this time.
Andy Robertson heads the ball down the left flank while Liverpool went in search of an out goal after falling behind early on
Mohamed Salah thought he had caught an equalizer, but striker Roberto Firmino was clearly sidelined during the build-up
Atletico manager Diego Simeone shouts instructions to his players while he looks to maintain their lead over one goal
Former Chelsea striker Morata had the chance to double the lead on his side, but Alisson saved a strong save with his leg to deny him
Firmino tries to work a bit of space, but Morata and Koke squeeze around the Liverpool rush to deny him every chance
From that moment the omens were not good. Madrid never lost a match when Saul Niguez scored – it now stands at 33 wins and four draws – and it could have gotten worse, and quickly, if Robertson had not distracted a Thomas Lemar cross that seemed to be moving in the direction of Angel Correa, unmarked on the other side.
Liverpool was lucky this way. Goal scoring has been the Madrid problem in what many consider a season of transition and followers of Chelsea will have an idea why. Morata was their attacking spearhead here, a striker who spent more time on the floor during his spell at Stamford Bridge than a single-legged drunk in a can-can line. Poorly equipped for the physical battles of the Premier League, this was probably never his game, and he made an extreme hash of his two chances, one in each half.
It was another mistake in the Liverpool line of defense that brought him in after 26 minutes – never van Dijk or Fabinho seemed so vulnerable – and Morata rushed through to beat Alisson before shooting right at him.
In the second half, a counterattack was played by Madrid via Renan Lodi in Morata in a nice position to end the game, perhaps even the draw in view of Madrid’s resistance, but calamity ensued. Morata panicked, slipped and slipped. It was his last involvement in the game and he bumped away as if he were injured. He certainly didn’t look injured before that mistake. Maybe it was the pain of shame.
Mane, booked for this incident with Vrsaljko, was taken away halfway after it seemed as if his mood could overcome him
Angel Correa of Atletico Madrid and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum fight for possession in the middle of the field
Salah had another chance to score an away game in the early stages of the second half, but headed far off the post
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson also shot just wide of the goal, but then got injured with about 10 minutes to go
Klopp was booked in the final stages for his protests at a handball decision to end a frustrating night for the German
No wonder Simeone was more concerned with retaining what Madrid had than looking for a more emphatic victory. Halfway through Lemar came up, Marcos Llorente came up, a young player who was skilled in midfield. For his part, Klopp replaced Sadio Mane, who had a quiet 45 minutes, with Divock Origi at halftime, but it was Salah who enjoyed Liverpool’s best chance, buying a long ball from Joe Gomez just wide.
Although Liverpool continued to build up pressure and had 75 percent ownership for much of the game, Madrid’s resistance was just as powerful. It is hard to think of another side that is very similar to them in the modern game with free wheels.
By the end, Klopp had lost his calm, Mane – although a booking and some pressure from Madrid to raise the decision to red may have played a role there – and Salah, in his desperation to find a way. It is rare that we see Liverpool so frustrated, but a replica Atletico Madrid does not exist in English football. Even in the lower Norwich club on Saturday, Liverpool faced a team that wanted to attack. Not Madrid.
Once they had taken the scrambled lead, they were happy that Liverpool had the ball and withdrew into the space-shattering benches. On Anfield next month they will start the way they played here. If they can kill the game with a counterattack, fine. If not, they will be happy to have a scoreless draw as a highlight of their ambition, and it’s up to Liverpool to break them down. It is true that Atletico is not Barcelona, but Liverpool had shots on goal at Nou Camp last season. They didn’t come here.