Liverpool’s unstoppable force lost out to Atletico’s immovable object. But here’s why Jurgen Klopp is still smiling
Judging by what happened at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday morning, the immovable object comes out on top.
It was always going to be a game that went this way though, where Diego Simeone would try and get an early goal before completely shutting down and shutting out all who come his way. That will have been no surprise to Jurgen Klopp, Atletico have been doing it to top teams in Europe for the best part of the last decade.
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Underdogs Atleti catch Reds1:48
What would have surprised Klopp, however, was how few chance Liverpool had, and how ineffective all three of his much-feared attacking triumvirate was.
This was the first time this season Klopp has been able to field this team – widely seen as his best XI – due to injuries to different players at different times.
It will be the last time for a while as well, as the in-form Jordan Henderson suffered a worrying-looking hamstring injury to end his game early.
He removed Sadio Mane at half time over fears he would get sent off – “I was afraid his opponent would go down if Sadio took a deep breath,” he quipped after the game. In truth, he just brought forward the inevitable as Mane’s usual influence was weakened.
Mohamed Salah was also removed midway through the second half, perhaps because Klopp had decided to give up on an equaliser and maintain the score at a precarious 1-0, perhaps because Salah was having little more success than Mane was.
The full-backs of struggled too. They were given no room, saw their crossing opportunities shut down and were frequently exposed on the break. Thomas Lemar gave Trent Alexander-Arnold plenty of headaches as he ran free of the Englishman throughout the first half.
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But it’s not the first time this season Liverpool have experienced these sorts of obstacles either. They have won 12 Premier League games by just a one-goal margin this season, and have often not deserved the win either.
But they had always found a way, be it James Milner against Leicester, Roberto Firmino against Wolves or Mane against Norwich on the weekend. They had always found a way to win.
But not this time. This time they failed to register a shot on target for the first time since October 2018.
European clubs have seemed to fare better when it comes to containing Liverpool than their Premier League counterparts this season.
Napoli beat them 2-0 and then earned a 1-1 draw at Anfield in the group stages and a repeat of that would see the Reds’ Champions League defence end in the Round of 16.
Saul stings Reds early0:35
It seems as though Klopp has not learnt from that game in Naples though. It was very similar to this one in Madrid as every attack was snuffed out and suffocated by a hard-working, staunch defence while the forwards pickpocketed a goal or two to a cacophony of roars and an illumination of red flares to drown out Liverpool’s famous travelling support.
“We speak about the power of a stadium and tonight we saw it,” Klopp said afterwards. “They wanted the result and they got the result. But we know there are things we can do better.”
It’s only half time in the tie and Simeone will be working night and day for the next three weeks to drill into his players how not to let Liverpool’s stars “do better”. But they will be in for quite the welcome themselves upon arrival, as Klopp so menacingly promised.
“For those Atletico fans lucky enough to get a ticket… welcome to Anfield.”