Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool was always going to be a marquee matchup of the Champions League group stage. The schedule makers hit gold pitting the two giants in back-to-back weeks across match days 3 & 4. Couple that with the results from the first two rounds of matches Liverpool was entering in fine form. This match had everything, the good; Liverpool’s early play and control after taking a 0-2 lead. We had the bad; defensive lapses leading to two first-half Madrid goals, poor all around. Concluding with; the Atletico way, more to come on what that means to this writer in a bit.
Jurgen Klopp went strong like most thought he would. He didn’t rotate defensively, making only one change to the team that saw off Watford, Saturday afternoon. That change was a no-brainer, with Alisson Becker coming back between the sticks. Fabinho’s omission from the start was a head-scratcher. No Fab meant Klopp opted with the midfield three of Henderson, Milner & Keita. Firmino, Mane, and the red-hot Mo Salah made up the front three and were great from the start. Injuries forced Atletico Madrid to start a midfielder and backup at central defense. Sound familiar? I have no sympathy for Diego Simeone or any of his men (said loosely).
A Half…of Two Halves…
Liverpool came out of the gates flying, the good. Mo was looking sharp early and the high press was clearly a point of emphasis. After a cross-field pass from Andrew Robertson, Mo went all Mo on Atletico’s makeshift defense. Mo would cut to his left while toying with three defenders before unleashing a low effort that found the corner. Initially, it appeared to be a James Milner deflected goal but was later credited to Mo. Clearly, the scorekeeper has Mo in some fantasy champions league or just wants him to win next year’s top honors (his form says he deserves it). Before the excitement of Mo’s 8th-minute opener had fully set in, Naby Keita unleashed another belter following a poor defensive clearance. His direct volley was a thing of beauty and after 13 minutes our Reds were two up and flying! Keita’s day would quickly change.
Following the second goal, Madrid’s midfield started to get a hold of the ball and their possession was causing problems. The bad was first seen in the 20th minute following an Atletico corner Naby was absolutely done in on the byline and it lead to Antoine Griezmann deflecting a Koke shot on target past Allison. Less than eight minutes later Griezmann was in again but for a wonderful save by Allison. Who once again, puts in a solid shift every time he wears the jersey. Unfortunately, even his greatness wasn’t keeping out Greizmann’s equalizer during the 34th minute. Another soft piece of defending by Naby directly resulted in TAA and Matip being dragged out of position before VVD was unable to close down the Frenchman. To be fair, which is hard because I loathe him, his first touch and finish were sublime. Two to two at the half and breath.
FAB was the move…
Jurgen Klopp quickly rectified his tactical flaws of the first half by replacing Naby Keita with Fabinho at the break. It wasn’t all bad from Naby, nor were the goals all his fault. Fabinho quickly showed his worth breaking up play in the middle of the pitch for fun. Atletico had a few early chances in the second half but the defense and Alisson were up to the challenge. In the 54th minute, a match with four first-half goals had its biggest moment by far. A dangerous high boot caught Roberto Firmino in the face and Griezmann was rightly shown a straight red card for dangerous play. I don’t believe he meant to injure or that there was any malice in the challenge. That said, he had to go. His teammates knew it, he knew it, deep down the maniac they call a manager knew it (I think).
During the 63rd minute, Liverpool made two key substitutions bringing on Jota and Ox for Milner and Mane. Ox had a real impact from midfield and seems to love a European night. Jota was blatantly fouled during the 74th-minute and the referee pointed to the spot with one of his easiest decisions all night. Mo stepped up and buried it and Liverpool had restored their lead against the 10-man side. Liverpool kept up the pressure but not without Atletico causing some problems on the counter. Then the moment happened when Gimenez went down following a free kick in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. OH NO! Wait, VAR check, he goes to the monitor, checks for himself, NO PENALTY. Proper call, proper use of VAR, well done by all. Good guys hold on for 6 extra minutes of stoppage time take 3 all points.
The Atleti Way…
Everyone loves Diego Simeone, everyone but Gally. Don’t get me wrong anyone who knows me knows I played with fire and at half the size of most. I never shied away from a tackle and saw my share of Yellow and Red cards alike. One thing I did have was some comportment and class. Simeone as usual showed no signs of either today. I understand that if Jurgen wasn’t our manager we might not love him so much. Klopp walking aimlessly on the touchline at the end of the match looking for Diego for the customary handshake should be an embarrassment to the manager and club but it isn’t they don’t care. They like to carry the persona of a rough, tough, and combative group of footballers. They were tough opponents, except when it came to being better professionals, the manager set the tone and the players proved it too.
The thuggery, flopping, diving, and bating the officials early can’t overshadow what an accomplishment today’s performance truly was. This was the first time loss in 40 matches at that stadium and they have NEVER conceded three goals at home. Those are both great accomplishments as we sit top of the group after three matchdays and look to close out the group next week at home against what will be a wounded Atletico side. Coming to Anfield was never going to be easy, but needing a win is only going to make it more difficult. This was considered a group of death by many. After seeing how we have played over three matches and responded today in Spain, no one wants Liverpool in this competition moving forward.
Thank you for reading and please let us know your thoughts on the match in the comments section below.