Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool
After what seems like an age, the Champions League finally returned to our screens on Tuesday the 18th of February.
All four competing Premier League outfits managed to make it out of this season’s group stages with Liverpool the first of those sides in last 16 action.
The reigning Champions League holders continued their defence of their crown on Tuesday vs Spanish powerhouse, Atletico Madrid.
The first leg took place at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium with Liverpool set to welcome Atletico to Anfield for the reverse fixture on March 11th.
Unsurprisingly, given the magnitude of the tie, Jurgen Klopp put out what is arguably his strongest eleven on Tuesday with Sadio Mane making his first start since returning from injury.
Atletico also put out a fairly strong line-up but they were without the services of Joao Felix.
Liverpool XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson, Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Mane, Salah, Firmino
Atletico XI: Oblak, Vrsaljko, Savic, Felipe, Lodi, Koke, Saul, Thomas, Lemar, Morta, Correa
Liverpool struggle to break down Atletico
Atletico started the tie fairly brightly and were rewarded for their dominance early on.
Diego Simeone’s side took the lead inside four minutes after Saul Niguez tapped home a loose ball that fell to the Spaniard from a corner.
After the opening goal, the game fell into a pattern most spectators will likely have been expecting prior to kick off.
The defensive-minded Atletico sat deep whilst Liverpool pressed high, knocking the ball around the La Liga side’s box as they looked to carve out a decent chance.
It would be Madrid who had the second big opening of the night though as Alvaro Morata forced a big save out of Alisson.
Liverpool had the ball in the back of the net shortly after that stop, but it was rightly ruled out for offside.
The half-time whistle then blew with the score still 1-0.
The Merseyside powerhouse boasted the majority of possession in the opening 45. Yet despite their dominance, Liverpool didn’t register a single shot on goal in the first half.
Atletico clinch key victory
The second half began with both managers making changes.
Sadio Mane was taken off for Divock Origi in what looked to be a like-for-like sub whilst Simeone took Thomas Lemar off for Marcos Llorente.
Despite being a defensive midfielder by trade, Llorente looked to start the second half on the right of midfield.
The Spaniard would find himself in good areas several times in the opening exchanges of the second 45 but he played the wrong ball twice.
Liverpool then had arguably, their best chance of the game when Joe Gomez floated a lovely ball into Mohamed Salah who headed wide.
With 66 minutes on the clock, Morata had a big chance to get Atletico’s second of the evening. But the former Chelsea man appeared to fall over his own feet when attempting to strike the ball.
Shortly after that rather embarrassing error, Morata was substituted for Atletico with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain then coming on for Liverpool in place of Salah.
Liverpool were forced to use their 3rd sub in the 79th minute with James Milner coming on for an injured Jordan Henderson.
With two minutes of normal time remaining, Klopp received a yellow card after showing frustration at a decision, which should have been given as handball against Madrid.
But it is hard to blame the German for his anger as the officials weren’t great on Wednesday, failing to spot some rather obvious errors and awarding a pretty dramatic Atletico side an abundance of freekicks.
Liverpool left with mountain to climb at Anfield
Proceedings eventually drew to a close with Atletico 1-0 up heading into the second leg.
And whilst Liverpool have been phenomenal this season, this victory shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise because even though Atletico are struggling for form this term, Simone is yet to lose a single home tie as a manager in the Champions League.
The story will likely be very different in March though. Liverpool didn’t manage a single shot on target on Wednesday but at Anfield, it is hard to see the Premier League side not turning things around.
This well-drilled Atletico side should prove extremely hard to break down in the next leg but there is something about Liverpool at Anfield that makes you think they can still do it.