March 12, 2020

BREAKING: Atletico Madrid ruin Liverpool’s UCL title defence

BREAKING: Atletico Madrid ruin Liverpool's UCL title defence

As Liverpool know, the difference can be the goalkeeper. Adrian has previously proved to be an able deputy for the injured Alisson but he was sadly at fault as Atletico Madrid scored the precious extra-time goals that meant Liverpool will be champions of Europe for not much longer.

At the other end of the pitch stood Jan Oblak, who can lay claim with Alisson to the right to be called the world’s best goalkeeper, and although he was beaten twice he produced save after stunning save to deny wave after relentless wave of Liverpool attacks.

Having been beaten in normal time by Georginio Wijnaldum, Oblak was beaten early in extra-time by Roberto Firmino as he scored his first goal at Anfield in almost a year by volleying home after his header had rebounded back off the post.

It appeared that would send Liverpool into the quarter-finals but, incredibly, Atletico struck back with two goals by substitute Marcos Llorente in eight minutes as the Spaniards showed incredible reserves of resilience to go through.

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Adrian was certainly at fault for the first goal as his clearance went straight to Joao Felix and the striker quickly found Llorente whose low shot beat the despairing goalkeeper who should have done better.

For the second another substitute Alvaro Morata broke away before squaring the ball to Llorente who bent his shot around the retreating Joe Gomez to beat Adrian who was maybe unsighted and appeared to dive late.

It means that Liverpool have lost their first two-legged European tie under Jurgen Klopp and will not reach a third successive Champions League Final. For all the brilliance of this season and even though they should have won this tie in a normal tie the loss of Alisson, who has been such a big part of their achievements, hit them hard here.

“You’ll Never Walk Around” drowned out the Champions League anthem and a wave of noise, a cacophony of anticipation greeted the kick-off but it was only close to half-time when it exploded; when the release came and an equalising goal was scored.

Given the aerial power of the Atletico central defenders, Stefan Savic and Felipe, it was remarkable that it came from a header but less remarkable that the waves of Liverpool pressure finally told.

The cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whipped in powerfully from the right, was superb and it was Georginio Wijnaldum who rose to angle a header across goalkeeper Jan Oblak and into the net. Given the obduracy that had preceded it, it was incredible that Wijnaldum was unmarked.

At the interval, it was, therefore, parity.

Atletico had signalled a warning in the opening seconds as Diego Costa was quickly given a sight of goal only to drive his shot into the side-netting. Twenty minutes later Costa had the Liverpool fans on his back, deliberately so, after he kicked the ball away as offside was given.

Simeone urged his side to get the ball forward more quickly or be more compact but there was also an obvious desire to try and stall any momentum Liverpool could gather.

Still, it arrived. The return of captain Jordan Henderson was making a difference and Liverpool began to create half-chances with Wijnaldum glancing a header, in a portent of what was to come, Mohamed Salah shooting over and Oblak parrying a fierce drive by Oxlade-Chamberlain. From a corner, Mane headed goalwards but the ball was hooked away before it reached Virgil Van Dijk.

Prior to kick-off, a banner was passed along the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand with a line that read “Our history is yet to be written” and the feeling in Liverpool’s 400th European game was that it would take another special night to prevail here.

The Atletico lead was slender but that “experience” that Klopp had euphemistically referred to on the eve of the match was evident while Liverpool walked a knife-edge of knowing that if they conceded first the scale of the task dramatically increased. Fortunately, that did not happen.

It was unforgiving. In the midfield there was not a shred of space; tackles came; challenges were made and the ball was moved at a breath-taking pace. Possession passed quickly with the pressing unrelenting as Salah shown in taking the ball away from Renan Lodi after a moment’s hesitation with Mane shooting straight at Oblak who spilt it but recovered.

Oblak was in action again and did well to keep his eye on the ball as Roberto Firmino attempted to meet Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross, right in front of him, with the goalkeeper pushing it out one-handed.

Liverpool wanted more. Salah opened up his body but could not bend the ball around Oblak who excelled when Mane reached Oxlade-Chamberlain’s lofted cross on the volley with the goalkeeper blocking at his near post and then quickly gathered the loose ball.

It was beginning to be Oblak versus Liverpool as he dived low to his right to turn another Oxlade-Chamberlain low away for yet another corner and stopped another effort from the midfielder as he met a free-kick. It appeared inevitable that Liverpool would score again.