The stage was set at Anfield. Passionate and noisy fans gathered to back their team. For a brief period, the panic regarding Coronavirus would take a back seat. The goal-aggregate was not as big as last season’s semifinal clash against Barcelona. Thus, the Liverpool fans were confident that the boys of Jurgen Klopp would not only come back stronger at Anfield but would go a long way like last season.
It was Anfield. The crowd was electrifying. The home team was pumped up. But Diego Simeone had the last laugh. Liverpool are out of Champions League, which means without Cristiano Ronaldo you cannot stop Simeone in the #UCL knockout stages. pic.twitter.com/0hVkwR7gd4
— Faisal Caesar (@faisalyorker1) March 11, 2020
But Diego Simeone’s men are a hard nut to crack, and with no Cristiano Ronaldo around, there was none out there in the Liverpool camp to dash the spirit of Atletico Madrid. Atleti are a freak and until the final whistle blew they made it sure that they are not just a bunch of freak people, but they are most freakish people around, which you never, ever dare to write-off even when few seconds are left to play.
Liverpool’s start was electrifying. They were much better than Atleti and Simeone’s men were faced with attacks coming from the right, left and center – 11 shots were made with 4 on target. Passing accuracy was 83% while ball possession had been 67%. There 15 open play crosses from the Reds. 7 corners. Trent Alexander Arnold was involved in 5 crosses and corners.
All these happened in just 45 minutes.
But Atleti back was well drilled in Jan Oblak they have a goalkeeper who is just hard to overcome. He made 9 saves against Liverpool last evening, the most by any goalkeeper in a Champions League knockout game so far this season. In the first 55 minutes, Oblak made 6 saves. Simply astonishing.
But still, Liverpool sneaked through.
A Georginio Wijnaldum header with two minutes before half-time leveled things up.
In the second-half Liverpool looked even better, but Simeone stuck to the plan of sitting deep and keep the midfield compact as much as possible.
They never took the feet out of the gas until the final whistle.
In 120 minutes, Liverpool attempted 62 crosses, the most in a single game since the 2016/17season at least. Trent Alexander-Arnold attempted 25, the most by a player in a single game since the 2016/17 season at least.
But the majority of them were shut down by Atleti!
It seemed that his backline was protected by an invisible membrane. The people protecting the back were hyper-alert and super-skilled to weather each and every dangerous cross and block the attempts whereas Oblak transformed into a superman.
At the center of the park, Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey kept things tight as much as possible: Saul had most touches and interceptions and won most of the aerial battles. While Thomas blocked most of the attempts, made most of the tackles and recovered the ball from the opposition.
Meanwhile, Joao Felix added a bit of spice with his mobility. As the numbers suggest: He had 100% shot accuracy, 39 touches on the ball, created 2 chances, 2 shots on goal and 1 crucial assist.
Roberto Firmino broke the deadlock during extra-time. Roberto Firmino put Liverpool ahead in the tie for the first time with a goal in the 94th minute. Liverpool were ahead and what Klopp required was to minimize the errors as much as possible and keep things tight.
But Adrian was found wanting.
Before that blunder, he was quite good, but Adrian was not Alisson and how badly Liverpool missed Alisson last evening, Klopp knows very well.
Out of nowhere, Adrián played a horrible defensive clearance straight to Felix’s feet, who played a lovely no-look pass that left Marcos Llorente – brought on in the second-half – in space in front of goal – he made a low-shot and into the corner. The noisy Anfield became quiet.
Adrian’s mistake proved costly as Llorente sent the ball out of his reach, and jinked inside Jordan Henderson to curl home from 20 yards for his second. Then, Alvaro Morata applied gloss to the scoreline at the fag end of extra-time.
A delirious Simeone sprinted down the pitch in front of a stunned Anfield crowd.
The way Liverpool played last evening, surely, they should have won. In fact, they deserved to advance. But can you undermine the fightback of Atleti? No way, you cannot do that. They deserved to advance as well. If a visiting team tames the magic at Anfield and becomes the scriptwriter, then, what can you say? Sit back and defend, is dull; but it works and has worked many times in the past. Such bloody-minded and gritty approaches kill the confidence of the fluent opposition and help to deliver the sucker-punch in the counter.
Simeone and his boys are devilish, rock-solid and bloody-minded.
At the end of the day, they win – they are the conquerors of Anfield.