Atlético Makes Liverpool Suffer As The Reds Land 0 Shots On Target In Madrid

Diego Simeone once summed up his coaching philosophy in one brief sentence: “Effort is non-negotiable.” 

On Tuesday, the Atlético team on the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano fully embodied its manager in a heroic 1-0 Champions League Round of 16 first-leg victory over defending champion Liverpool.  

This was almost painfully cliché Atlético despite all the chatter of an ongoing team transformation following a summer squad turnover that saw eight players leave and eight players enter. 

Atlético conceded 72.5 percent possession to the visitors, but the team’s narrow structure kept Liverpool from exerting any influence in dangerous central areas. Liverpool’s flying fullbacks were subdued throughout with Atleti left back Renan Lodi putting in a man-of-the-match performance. 

Sadio Mané lasted only 45 minutes on the pitch with only a booking to show for it while Mohamed Salah was hooked in the 72nd. In midfield, Saúl Ñíguez, Thomas Partey and Koke nullified Liverpool’s midfield three with their constant running and harassing.

And while Liverpool will take solace from the fact that it created a couple of chances and only surrendered one goal before returning to Anfield, Simeone won’t be bothered either — his decision to replace Thomas Lemar with Marcos Llorente at halftime effectively said as much.

After all, as Simeone says: “The intelligent supporter is the one who does not obsess over whether the team plays well, but rather that the team wants to win.”

That desire to win permeated throughout the Wanda at kick off, and that atmosphere translated into early pressure from Atlético and an early goal. 

From a Liverpool perspective, it wasn’t so much an inability to be ready for the big occasion as it was a shitty goal to concede. After a cluster of players rose and failed to meet Koke’s corner, the ball inadvertently struck Fabinho’s foot and rolled straight into Saúl’s path for an easy finish. 

The early Atleti pressure quickly faded as the game took on a familiar pattern for those who watch Liverpool in the Premier League. The Reds pinned the hosts deep and, whenever they lost the ball, they quickly won possession back in Atlético's half. 

But the usual fluidity and quality was missing, and for that credit has to go to all of Simeone’s charges. Liverpool’s best chance of the second half fell to Jordan Henderson, but he couldn’t put his volley on frame from 12 yards out.

The highlight of the second half, from a neutral perspective, was definitely Álvaro Morata failing to connect on a chance, kicking his own feet out from under him and getting substituted shortly after.

He could then be seen on the Atlético bench applying ice to his self-inflicted wounds.  

The showdown at Anfield takes place on Wednesday, March 11, at 3 p.m. ET.

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