MADRID: Champions League holders Liverpool will need to summon another famous European comeback at Anfield next month after they were beaten 1-0 away to Atletico Madrid in their last-16 first leg last night.
Spain midfielder Saul Niguez struck the only goal of the game in the fourth minute by bundling into the net from close range following a corner, their traditional weapon of choice in recent years.
Liverpool, who have won 25 of 26 Premier League games this season and are on course for a record-smashing title win, missed a series of chances to equalise in the second half, with Mohamed Salah and captain Jordan Henderson coming closest to scoring.
Juergen Klopp’s side play at home to Atletico on March 11 in the return leg at Anfield, where they produced an incredible 4-0 win over Barcelona in last year’s semi-final second leg after losing the first match 3-0.
Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium was the scene of Liverpool’s 2-0 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur in last year’s final but they faced a very different type of atmosphere this time around.
Clouds of billowing red smoke greeted the Atletico bus when it arrived at the ground as the home supporters stoked up a scorching atmosphere throughout the game to give their side a lift in the middle of their worst season in recent memory.
Diego Simeone’s men have looked nothing like the sides that reached the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals and challenged Real Madrid and Barcelona’s duopoly of La Liga for most of this campaign. They trail league leaders Real by 13 points.
But last night they produced a vintage defensive display, sitting deep and barely giving Liverpool any space for their attacking trident of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to work their usual magic.
Mane was fortunate not to be sent off late in the first half after clashing with Sime Vrsaljko while on a yellow card and he was swiftly substituted by Klopp for Divock Origi, who scored the second goal in last year’s final.
He caused little disquiet to Atletico’s towering defenders, yet Salah should have levelled with a header which went wide of the near post, while Henderson also narrowly missed the target from inside the area later on.
Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund teenager Erling Haaland scored twice in eight minutes to lead his team to a 2-1 victory over Paris St Germain.
The Norwegian 19-year-old, who has already netted eight times in five Bundesliga matches, stabbed in from close range after a quickfire passing move in the 69th minute and then thundered in an unstoppable shot for his second in the 77th, two minutes after Neymar had levelled for the French champions.
Haaland has now scored 10 Champions League goals in seven games this season – eight for Salzburg in the group stage.