Advantage Atletico, but it's not over yet ... Anfield will be rocking

“This isn’t going to be a normal kind of game,” I said to my son as I sat down nervously just before kick-off at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium last night.


Diego Simone had done his best to stoke up the crowd to fever pitch for the visit of Champions League holders Liverpool – who had won the famous trophy for a sixth time at the home of Atletico Madrid last June.

Much like Jose Mourinho, Simone is well-known for the dark arts of football, which we were to see for pretty much the entire 90 minutes. Even more so after their scrappy goal.

Liverpool had come to Madrid on the back of a fantastic run in domestic football. Many believe the Premier League title is as good as wrapped up, as they hold a magnificent 25-point gap over defending champions Manchester City. But, as we saw, European football is a very different animal.

With two world-class goalkeepers in goal – Jan Oblak for Atletico and Alisson Becker for Liverpool – the action was pretty much all in the Atletico half. Simone set them up that way, to defend deep and put numbers behind the ball – in a 4-4-2 formation. The instructions were clear from kick-off, the strikers tucked in to marshall the runs of Liverpool full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, while the midfield remained narrow, to ensure the back four was well-protect, never isolated against the raw pace of Sadio Mane and Mo Saleh, and Roberto Firmino was kept at arm’s length – quite literally.

And when Liverpool did threaten, Atletico won free-kicks or stopped play by convincing the Polish referee they had been hit by a bus. This was football sh*thousery at its finest.

Indeed Mane received a yellow for a stray elbow (the ref seemed to ignore the one Vrsaljko had thrown at him in the initial tussle).

Whenever Liverpool threatened, Atletico went down. “This isn’t football,” I muttered during the second half, as frustrations grew.

Then, quite laughably, Jurgen Klopp was shown a yellow card for protesting an Atletico handball that was seen by everyone apart from the referee, who was clearly not equipped to officiate in front of such an intimidating atmosphere. It felt as though every time Atletico called for a free-kick, he whistled. It was infuriating.

Whenever Liverpool lose, or sometimes draw, neither of which have happened too frequently in recent seasons, thankfully, fingers quickly point towards the man in black. But he was clearly overwhelmed on the big stage. Whenever the cameras zoomed in on Simone, he was out of his technical area, and even worse, on the pitch on more than one occasion. How did the officials not see that?

Klopp was right to take off Mane, who Atletico had clearly targeted. I said as much to my son before the second half, and it was no surprise to see the visitors adopt a sensible approach to ensure he can play in the return leg. A red card in Madrid might have seen the hosts go for what might have been the all-important second goal, but they never seriously threatened.

Liverpool remained patient and played some neat football, without ever seriously testing Oblak. The best chance saw an unmarked Salah fail to hit the target with a header from eight yards. For me, he isn’t quite the same player away from Anfield, both in Europe and in the Premier League.

Klopp was left shaking his head in disbelief at the final whistle, before composing himself for the cameras for the post-match interviews.

Atletico’s tactics were a throwback to the 70’s and 80’s. But as Klopp said: “It’s only half-time. Not a 15-minute half-time. We have three weeks to prepare for the second leg.”

We've been here before. Anfield will be rocking.

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