Struggling in LaLiga, knocked out of the Copa del Rey, with assistant coach Mono Burgos focused on his own plans, with Godín and Gabi far away… Everything had the feel of a the end of an era, that Cholismo (the ‘Cholo’ Simeone’ way) had nothing left to give - it was beautiful while it lasted, but… and suddenly, no. Facing the toughest test, the hardest tie in Europe, Cholo’s Atlético Madrid hit the heights once again and impressed to the level of their best games over the past few years. The Metropolitano, full to the rafters, was a tumult of noise and at the end of the match nobody wanted to leave. The fans and the team wishing to prolong the union that had lasted the 90-something minutes of the match.
Atlético 1-0 Liverpool...
It was an unforgettable night, which started with surprise at Cholo’s line-up, trusting the left wing to two unconvincing individuals: Lodi and Lemar, and their energetic start. Both ideas worked. The initial push from Atlético returned a goal, the only one of the game, and Lodi (above all) and Lemar put in worthy performances. Atlético gave space and the ball to Liverpool - a side which prefers to press and run rather than attack from standing starts - and defended phenomenally well. After half an hour without getting into the box, Liverpool started trying shots from distance. They couldn’t find a way to open a crack in Atlético’s solid defence.
In the second half Liverpool improved and for 20 minutes were right on top of Atleti. It was suffocating stuff. The Atlético defence creaked, but never broke, and coped with the lengthy storm until the side managed to move upfield and nearly made it 2-0. Liverpool trooped off the pitch without a single shot on target, a remarkable statistic. And a remarkable performance from Atlético, of ordered football, full of teamwork, with every player knowing when to move up or back, or go to the aid of a teammate. Simeone’s side go to Anfield with 1-0 in the locker, a result that sees the side holding it go through 51% of the time. Far better odds than expected before the match.