MADRID,
Spain
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. 

– Atletico snapping at heels –

Liverpool, who began with their expected eleven, have
blitzed numerous opponents with explosive starts but they were the ones rocking
early on as Atletico snapped at their heels, pressed hard and relished being
first to every loose ball. 

They took the lead, aided by a hint of fortune as Liverpool
failed to clear the corner and the ball cannoned back off the foot of Fabinho
for Saul to stab in from three yards. 

On the sideline, Simeone beckoned his players to stay calm
but they were celebrating in the corner while in the stands, the fans were
delirious and given hope.

Atletico were given a lead to defend and the rest of the
half was largely a picture of Liverpool dominating the ball but failing to
break down the 10 red and white shirts in front of them.

Their best chances fell to Mohamed Salah but he passed Jan
Oblak’s mishit clearance to the offside Firmino before sidefooting into an open
net and then saw a deflected shot fly over. 

Oblak’s error came shortly after an equally unusual mistake
from Virgil van Dijk, whose poor header might have proved costly, only for
Morata to miss the chance from the angle. 

Sadio Mane, on a yellow card, was replaced at half-time by
Divock Origi while Lemar made way for the more conscientious Marcos
Llorente. 

Simeone could sense Liverpool’s momentum and he responded by
frantically flapping his arms to demand more support.

Salah drifted into space at the back post but headed wide
and Atletico came through another spell of pressure unscathed. Morata should
even have made it two but slipped when about to pull the tigger on Lodi’s
cut-back. 

He was taken off with 20 minutes left, along with Salah, and
Costa made his return shortly after to a wave of approval from the home
support. The roar was even bigger when the final whistle blew. 

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