The atmosphere at Estadio Metropolitano was electrifying – the home team, Atletico Madrid arrived through red smoke and led by white horses. The place was buzzing. The supporters were not expecting anything special against the Champions of Europe, but they wanted to push their team up with the best of supports – more noise and more music to lift the spirit of the boys and help Diego Simeone to unleash his defensive masterclass, which would be the ideal way to halt the attacking footballing display of Jurgen Klopp’s men.
This is how Atletico Madrid fans greeted the team bus ahead of their Champions League match 😳🔥
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 18, 2020
A few days back Saul Niguez said in an interview, “Liverpool are very complete, a great team in every area [but] they find it hardest when you’re deep because they’re very, very, very good in transition. I watched them against Norwich and if it wasn’t for [Sadio] Mané’s extraordinary control, they don’t win. They’ve won lots of games they could have drawn or lost, which tells you something about what they have inside. It’s not luck. It’s work, sacrifice, not giving up a single ball for lost”.
Liverpool were sluggish and ineffective on the attack. Whereas Atletico Madrid fed off the fervent support at home. Atleti were resilient, solid & dangerous on the counter. A rare defeat for Liverpool. It's a narrow margin, which could be overcome at Anfield. #UCL pic.twitter.com/NK6Nd50aLy
— Faisal Caesar (@faisalyorker1) February 19, 2020
Within 10 minutes into the match, it was Saul who gave Atleti the lead and then what Atleti did was nothing but the exhibition was sheer determination and compactness – just what Saul said about.
Simeone pushed the fullbacks- Renan Lodi and Sime Vrasljko – into the advanced areas and get in crosses into the center of Liverpool box. Then they would return to their usual positions earlier with Liverpool busy in organizing themselves and sit back into a more reserved 4-4-2 position. This led the Liverpool fullbacks – Trent-Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson – discover themselves in a situation where the spaces behind them were filled in by Lodi and Vrasljko.
Renan Lodi vs Liverpool
64% pass accuracy
1 key pass
1 dribble won
6 tackles won
100% tackle success
1 aerial won
He gave absolutely 100% today. Great performance. 🔴⚪️🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/Bw2qZYrhFY
— FootballTalentScout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) February 18, 2020
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane waited to receive crosses from their full-backs, but it was never possible. Especially Lodi totally pocketed Salah Trent. Meanwhile, the spaces behind Salah and Mane were well occupied by the center backs of Atleti – Felipe, and Savic.
Simeone knew very well, the danger for his team would be none other than Roberto Firmino and he thought of blocking the passing lanes.
Whenever Firmino received the ball, the midfield of Atleti – Lemar, Thomas Partey, Saul and Koke kept it very narrow so that Firmino, who was playing as a false 9, could not pass either to Salah or Firmino. And when Firmino did not have the ball on his feet, Saul and Partey made it tough for him to receive the ball whenever Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson tried to pass.
— #KIMLYKESSEHONLINE (@Kimlykesseh1) February 19, 2020
The two forwards of Atleti tried to press the center backs of Liverpool whenever they received the ball from Alisson. But it created space behind, which led Fabinho to pass the ball to Firmino – but Saul pushed up to cut the passing lanes. Firmino was isolated.
The narrowness of Atleti midfield helped them to dominate the center of the park, but it left spaces on the flanks more often – the crosses did come, but the threat was cut short by Savic and Felipe.
Klopp switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Origi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in operation – letting Firmino play in a center forward position, but it was never easy for Liverpool to overcome the narrowness of Atleti midfield.
Klopp was booked for remonstrating with the Polish referee over Atlético’s time-wasting tactics. The Liverpool manager also spotted the throw-in that was wrongly awarded against his team before the corner that yielded Atletico’s winner.
The scoreline remained 1-0 and Simeone, who said Liverpool would go down in history and the man that led them – Klopp, in whom he witnessed the shadow of himself, had the upper hand. Simeone met Klopp for the first time and dished out the performance for the rest of the teams to see, how to stop the best.
It is expected, Klopp and Liverpool would give a fitting reply to Simeone at Anfield as the spirit of Anfield can’t let the Reds down.