It was a clash of two teams having contrasting seasons as out of form Atletico Madrid hosted high-flying Liverpool in a Champions League Round of 16 first leg game at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Tuesday. On form, there seemed to be only winner in this game but Diego Simeone and his men have proved once again why they should not be taken lightly.
The hosts started strongly and looked confident on the ball. Atletico, who have been on a poor run of form, held on to a fourth-minute lead given to them by Saul. The Spanish midfielder turned sharply to fire home after a corner came off the boot of Fabinho. A dogged defensive performance from the Spanish club makes this tie nicely poised ahead of the return leg at Anfield. Jordan Henderson had the best opportunity for the visitors but skimmed his header wide. Alvaro Morata missed a golden opportunity to double Atletico's lead, slipping with the ball at his feet and the goal at his mercy, shortly before being subbed off.
Liverpool failed to have a single shot on target for the first time in a game across all competitions since October 3rd, 2018 (vs Napoli). There wasn't a single shot on target between the two teams from the 27th minute onwards. Atletico's one-goal advantage means that Liverpool will have to beat Simeone's side at Anfield on March 11 to progress to the quarter-finals. Keeping all that in mind, let us look at the hits and flops from this game.
#5) Hit: Thomas Partey
Always there to put his head or his foot on the ball, Thomas Partey was rock-solid against the European champions. He was a driving force and a strong presence for Atletico in the midfield - ball-winning, dribbling and penetrative passing, the Ghanian had it all in his game against Liverpool.
Partey was full of running and made 13 ball recoveries in the game, more than any other player. The 26-year-old won seven out of 10 ground duels and three out of three aerial duels. The midfielder's performance showed why the other European giants want him and how he is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
#4) Flop: Mohamed Salah
It was a poor outing for the king of Liverpool, and only one person is to be blamed for that - Renan Lodi. Lodi made Salah's life miserable on that field and this perhaps explains the clumsiness of the Egyptian in front of the goal. The winger missed one big chance to get that crucial away goal and could not test Jan Oblak throughout the game.
He pushed and pushed for another opening but it failed to materialise, and the Egyptian was surprisingly substituted with over a quarter of an hour left to play when he made way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. A rare rough night for Salah.
#3) Hit: Saul Niguez
Like his partner in crime - Thomas Partey, Saul Niguez was at his very best against Liverpool. His passion and desire is unmatched and he gives it his all whenever he wears the Atletico jersey. Saul might not be the most prolific midfielder but he has proved that he has a knack for grabbing a goal in the biggest games like he did today.
The Spaniard gave his side the lead when he turned sharply to fire home after a corner came off the boot of Fabinho. Saul became only the second player to score 10 Champions League goals for Atletico. Other than the goal, the dynamic midfielder was at the top of his game and both he and Partey had a very solid game against a top side.
#2) Flop: Alvaro Morata
It was the case of missing easy chances, again. Alvaro Morata missing golden opportunities has become a thing now and it might come to haunt Atletico Madrid in the second leg. While Morata gave a good shift defensively and was there to support the midfield and back-line, he could not convert a rather simple chance in a big game.
The Spaniard forced a decent save from Alisson Becker in the first half after he latched onto an error by Virgil van Dijk, but it was his opportunity in the second half which might prove to be costly. Missing golden chances is an all too familiar feeling for Morata and the striker will be hoping his miss doesn’t cost his team-mates in the Round of 16 tie.
#1) Hit: Renan Lodi
Renan Lodi dealt with Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander Arnold for the entire 90 minutes and was lethal while going forward. Never for one single moment did one think Liverpool were gonna score from his flank.
Excellent at both ends, Lodi came up with a performance that matched the hype created around the young defender. The full-back gave a solid defensive display but his attacking attributes and the stamina to run back and forth throughout the whole 90 minutes was crucial in the victory for the home side. With performances like these, Lodi can be one of Atletico's key players in many years to come.
Published 19 Feb 2020, 07:45 IST