An early goal from Saul Niguez helped Atletico Madrid grind out a 1-0 win against defending champions Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
Saul Niguez scored the only goal of the night against Liverpool.© AFP
Liverpool were the victims of an old-fashioned Atletico Madrid masterclass on Tuesday as Diego Simeone’s side ground out a 1-0 win in Madrid to give themselves hope of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals. Saul Niguez raised the roof at a bouncing Wanda Metropolitano by scoring in the fourth minute before Atletico’s defence kicked in, suffocating the European champions and denying them a single shot on target. “Tonight is one of those nights you don’t forget,” said Simeone. “We haven’t gone through but we have beaten the best team in the world.”
If Alvaro Morata had not slipped at the crucial moment, Atleti might even have taken a two-goal lead to Anfield, where they can expect an onslaught next month.
“We are not 5-0 down,” said Jurgen Klopp. “We don’t think it will be easy but as long as we can get 11 players in Liverpool shirts we will give everything we have. And for all the Liverpool fans that can get a ticket — welcome to Anfield.”
If Liverpool remain favourites to go through, the roar from the Atleti fans at the final whistle, aimed at their fist-pumping players on the pitch, suggested Simeone’s team now have belief.
Few had tipped them to keep this tie even alive for the second leg given their own stuttering form, in contrast to Liverpool, unbeaten in the Premier League, and gunning for a treble.
Jurgen Klopp said on Monday Atletico were a “results machine” but the temptation was to see his words as platitudes, not an accurate reflection of a side that sits 13 points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid and had already lost six times this season.
Yet Atletico under Simeone have also become synonymous with upsetting the odds, just as they did when winning the Spanish title in 2014 and then twice reaching the Champions League final.
For all their failings this season, they summoned that spirit here to produce a throwback performance full of tenacity, resilience and guts that was always going to be needed to give them any chance of success.
Before the match, Atletico’s team bus had arrived at the stadium under plumes of red smoke. “We started to win the game when the bus came around the roundabout and we saw our fans,” said Simeone.
He sprung a surprise by starting Thomas Lemar for the first time this year while Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa both returned from injury, the former from the start and the latter off the bench in the second half.