Liverpool suffered a shock defeat in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie as Atletico Madrid earned a hard-fought 1-0 win at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday evening.
The hosts made the brighter start to the game and they were rewarded for their attacking intent as Saul Niguez opened the scoring on four minutes. A corner came in and as the ball broke free inside the area, the Spaniard was on hand to poke home.
Defeat in the first leg.— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 18, 2020
Back to Anfield for another big European night next month
Jurgen Klopp's men began to dominate possession, but it was Atletico who continued to create the better opportunities. Andrew Robertson made a last-ditch interception to prevent Alvaro Morata from tapping home at the back post, before the Spaniard saw a shot well kept out by Alisson.
Atleti came close at the start of the second half, but the Reds once again began to put the pressure on; Mohamed Salah heading wide from a good opportunity. The Anfield side continued to search for an equaliser, but it wasn't forthcoming. As a result, they will have work to do at home in the second leg.
Here's 90min's review of the game...
Key Talking Point
Atletico came into this Champions League game having managed to win just one of their last seven games in all competitions. In this time, they have managed to score a grand tally of four goals.
The question coming into this clash was: where are the goals going to come from? Diego Simeone was handed an injury boost as Morata was deemed fit enough to start the game, while Thomas Lemar also came into the side. From the off, Atletico looked to get at Liverpool, not allowing them to get into their stride.
The early tactics worked as they took an early lead. However, perhaps what was most impressive about Atletico's performance was that the energy levels never dropped throughout the game. They continued to press together and never gave the Reds any space to work. As a result, they were able to limit their chances, with Klopp's men failing to register a single shot on target.
A very strong performance from Atletico and they now have a lead to hold onto in the second leg.
Not sure Liverpool expected the intensity with which Atletico started this game... #ATMLIV— ¶ (@adeayo_) February 18, 2020
Starting XI: Oblak (6), Vrsaljko (6), Felipe (6), Savic (6), Lodi (6), Koke (7), Saul (8*), Partey (8), Lemar (6), Correa (5), Morata (5)
Substitutes: Llorente (5), Vitolo (6), Costa (N/A)
On a big evening, Simeone needed one of his star names to step up and deliver. And as he has done numerous times before, it was Saul who was that man.
Apart from the fact the Spaniard, of course, found the net early on to give his side the lead, his overall performance was outstanding. With Liverpool seeing as much as 75% of the ball, Saul never stopped pressing and harrying Klopp's men into countless mistakes.
Perhaps most impressively, once Saul had retrieved the ball, he would drive forward at pace and look to make things happen for his side. The midfielder was instrumental throughout and Simeone will be hoping for another big performance from his number eight in the second leg.
Better Call Saul Ñiguez— CrissCrossAppleSauce (@Sean_Calderon) February 18, 2020
Saul Niguez is one of my favorite footballers. Always scores big goals!#ATLLIV— Billy P. Rwothungeyo (@Billy7Rwoth) February 18, 2020
Key Talking Point
Liverpool returned to the place where they won the Champions League last season for the first time and while Klopp has been playing down his side's chances of winning the competition again this campaign, he will have been demanding a positive result to bring back to Anfield for the second leg.
However, the Reds made a very slow start to the game, with their players looking lethargic and off the pace. It was clear to see in the opening minutes and they were immediately punished through Saul's early goal.
And while the away side did begin to control possession, the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold were all making uncharacteristic, sloppy mistakes.
Klopp reacted at half time by bringing on Divock Origi for Mane, who had only recently returned from injury. However, the change didn't have any real impact and although they saw the majority of the ball, the Reds failed to test Jan Oblak. It was a hugely disappointing evening for the Reds, who failed to register a single shot on target.
This was their first loss since the youngsters were defeated in the Carabao Cup in December. While it is a defeat, Liverpool will know that there is still everything to play for in the second leg, however.
What a match for VVD to be wobbly in defence, the midfield to go missing and TAA to leave his crossing boots in Liverpool! #ATMLIV— Giles™️ (@angrysaffa) February 18, 2020
Substitutes: Origi (5), Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Milner (N/A)
Liverpool were not at their fluent, free-flowing best and Alisson was required to make a number of saves to prevent his side from going two or three goals behind.
Each time Atletico got in behind, the Brazilian was aware to the danger, positioning himself to make the angle as tight as possible for the opposition's attackers. It's certainly not the result the Reds will have been hoping for, but Alisson's saves were pivotal and they could yet have an impact on the overall tie.
Alisson is a beast — Sean Soriano (@ssorianoMMA) February 18, 2020
Atletico return to league action on the weekend as they host Villarreal. They then take on Espanyol one week later.
As for Liverpool, they take on West Ham at Anfield on Monday before facing Watford. The second leg of the tie will take place on March 11.