One must start by congratulating the Colchoneros. They have achieved something very unusual in this remarkable Liverpool season, and that is, simply, to win. Only Napoli in the group stage and Aston Villa against Klopp’s tots in the League cup had done the same. Certainly, a well-earned, well-deserved well-done for the Red & Whites.
Wanda Metropolitan is a lovely stadium, and Liverpool has pleasant recent memories from the venue where the team picked up the first, and to this point biggest, in its recently established string of trophies. It also happens to be a difficult place to play, if you’re up against the home team. The atmosphere was powerfully hostile towards the Reds, and it did have an impact early on, as Atletico out-intensed the most intense team on the planet, forcing the only goal of the game by sheer willpower. That the person who seemed most confused in the moment (having directly contributed to the goal by being in the wrong place) was Virgil Van Dijk, was the first piece of evidence in a long time that he is, in point of fact, human. Another rare mistake from him shortly thereafter almost led to a second goal, but it’s hard to beat Alisson these days, and twice in one game would have simply been too much.
Another player exhibiting a lack of focus early on was Trent Alexander-Arnold, wasting several early opportunities that could have turned into dangerous situations. His output normally being so unusually high, it’s sometimes difficult to remember he is still very young, but today may have served as a subtle reminder. The normally stoic Divock Origi, coming in the second half to protect a fired-up Sadio Mane from picking up a second yellow, also seemed unusually nervous for a spell.
Even with that stunning opener, it didn’t take long for Liverpool to assert itself, and it dominated most of the game. While it didn’t translate to actual goals, it felt like this was more a matter of bad luck and lack of concentration, aided by an admirable level of focus from the home defensive line. The Reds had three quarters of the possession, three times the passes – and no shots on target. The latter, in particular, is surely going to change dramatically at Anfield. Such was the imbalance of power on the pitch that one can easily imagine Liverpool winning by a margin of four or five in the second leg – yet such was the determination of the Madrid side that one can just as easily imagine them scraping through on an away goal.
In picking a man-of-the-match, it seems to me that it has to come from that Atletico defense, who really made no errors. And out of a series of terrific performances, one man still managed to stand out. Renan Lodi did the best anyone could do to neutralize the threat from Alexander-Arnold as well Mo Salah, once he switched sided, and still managed to find the time to deliver some lovely crosses. There aren’t many fullbacks like that in world football – Liverpool has two – and this game may create heightened interest in Lodi, who is the same age as Trent.
Klopp has never lost a European two-legged tie while at Liverpool, and even based on this game, it seems more likely than not that his streak is set to continue. For Liverpool fans, the game at Anfield can’t come soon enough.