Madrid, Feb 19 (IANS) Atletico Madrid defied predictions by jumping out to an early lead and hanging on to stymie holders Liverpool 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League knockout stage tie.
Though the real test will come in the March 11 second leg at Anfield, Atleti’s supporters at the Wanda Metropolitano responded with enthusiasm on Tuesday seeing their heroes hold the reigning European champions without a single shot on target, reports Efe news.
Facing Liverpool, who lead the Premier League by 25 points with 12 games to play and are having a season for the ages, the Colchoneros looked more like the side that reached the Champions League final twice in two years than the one now scrapping to hang on to fourth place in LaLiga.
And while Atleti are known for tenacious defending, they showed an ambition on the attack that has been notably missing for most of the present campaign.
The Reds, who have conceded only 15 goals in 26 Premier League matches, were uncharacteristically casual when defending in the early going and found themselves behind 1-0 in the fourth minute.
Renan Lodi charged down the left flank and sent a cross toward Alvaro Morata at the near post. Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk redirected the ball, but gave up a corner in the process.
Koke’s kick deflected off the leg of Reds midfielder Fabinho directly to Atleti’s Saul Ñiguez, who pushed the ball across the line with keeper Alisson too far away to do anything.
The hosts ceded possession to the visitors, yet Atleti continued to threaten and only a fine save from Alisson stopped Morata from doubling Atletico’s advantage.
Liverpool thought they had the equalizer when Mohamed Salah fired into an unguarded net following a botched clearance by Atleti keeper Jan Oblak, but the goal was disallowed because Reds forward Roberto Firmino was offside.
Morata couldn’t executive when Lodi served up a great ball in the second half and Salah’s header off a Joe Gomez cross missed the net.
Lodi fired wide on a subsequent strike from distance and Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson came close before the final whistle.