Sports Football 19 Feb 2020 Gutsy Atletico given ...

Gutsy Atletico given hope after surprise first-leg win over Liverpool

AFP
Published Feb 19, 2020, 6:18 am IST
Updated Feb 19, 2020, 6:18 am IST
The lead going into the second leg at Anfield is only 1-0 but the Spanish team have the nerve to defend it
Atletico Madrid's Spanish midfielder Saul Niguez scores the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Liverpool FC at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 18, 2020. (AFP)
 Atletico Madrid's Spanish midfielder Saul Niguez scores the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Liverpool FC at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 18, 2020. (AFP)

Madrid: Liverpool received an old-fashioned Atletico Madrid masterclass on defence as Diego Simeone's side went ahead 1-0 early and closed out the match to give themselves hope of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals.

Saul Niguez raised the roof at a bouncing Wanda Metropolitano by scoring in the fourth minute before Atletico's defence kicked in, suffocating the European champions and denying them a single shot on target.

 

"Tonight is one of those nights you don't forget," said Simeone. "We haven't gone through but we have beaten the best team in the world."

If Alvaro Morata had not slipped at the crucial moment, Atleti might even have taken a two-goal lead to Anfield, where they can expect an onslaught next month.

"We are not 5-0 down," said Jurgen Klopp. "We don't think it will be easy but as long as we can get 11 players in Liverpool shirts we will give everything we have. And for all the Liverpool fans that can get a ticket -- welcome to Anfield."

If Liverpool remain favourites to go through, the roar from the Atleti fans at the final whistle, aimed at their fist-pumping players on the pitch, suggested Simeone's team now have belief.

Few had tipped them to keep this tie even alive for the second leg given their own stuttering form, in contrast to Liverpool, unbeaten in the Premier League, and gunning for a treble.

Before the match, Atletico's team bus had arrived at the stadium under plumes of red smoke. "We started to win the game when the bus came around the roundabout and we saw our fans," said Simeone.

He sprang a surprise by starting Thomas Lemar for the first time this year while Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa both returned from injury, the former from the start and the latter off the bench in the second half.

Atletico snapping at heels

Liverpool, who began with their expected eleven, have blitzed numerous opponents with explosive starts but they were the ones rocking early on as Atletico pressed hard and relished being first to every loose ball.

They took the lead, aided by a hint of fortune as Liverpool failed to clear the corner and the ball cannoned back off the foot of Fabinho for Saul to stab in from three yards.

On the sideline, Simeone beckoned his players to stay calm but they were celebrating in the corner while in the stands the fans were delirious.

Atletico were given a lead to defend and the rest of the half was largely a picture of Liverpool dominating the ball but failing to break down the 10 red and white shirts in front of them.

Their best chances fell to Mohamed Salah but he passed Jan Oblak's mishit clearance to the offside Firmino before sidefooting into an open net and then saw a deflected shot fly over.

Oblak's error came shortly after an equally unusual mistake from Virgil van Dijk, whose poor header might have proved costly, only for Morata to miss the chance from the angle.

Sadio Mane, on a yellow card, was replaced at half-time by Divock Origi while Lemar made way for the more conscientious Marcos Llorente.

Simeone could sense Liverpool's momentum and he responded by frantically flapping his arms to demand more support.

Salah drifted into space at the back post but headed wide and Atletico came through another spell of pressure unscathed. Morata should even have made it two but slipped when about to pull the tigger on Lodi's cut-back.

He was taken off with 20 minutes left, along with Salah, and Costa made his return shortly after to a wave of approval from the home support. The roar was even bigger when the final whistle blew.

...




ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT