Atlético faced off Liverpool yesterday at a packed Wanda Metropolitano for the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. A very tough rival for Atlético as the Reds were still undefeated this season in the Premier League. And both Cholo and the crowd knew the role they had to play to keep their options to stay alive for the game at Anfield, Courage amd hard, lots of work, defend the box, bite since the first minute. That is the way they put al the ingredients together to live one of the biggest nights at their new stadium and pick up a short advantage to dream of advancing into the next round.
And for nights like yesterday´s, the game starts since the warm up, with a full Metropolitano that boosted their players and did not stop cheering in what it has been the most important match of the season so far. The prize, Cholo´s last bullet to fight for Atlético´s cursed competition and their only option to lift a trophy this season.
In order to pull it off, Atlético´s coach had the game in his head that took place since the first moment, the match he dreamed of. Aggressiveness in the back, compacted team, main objective to not concede any goal, and let´s take a chance forward, Cholo might think. And maybe the less expected scenario, Atlético being ahead in the scoreboard, something to defend, happened only in the fourth minute. The home team did not let Liverpool breath, began with a strong pressure over them and, thanks to that, Saúl took a shot after a corner kick and the Metropolitano crowd went crazy. Job done and time to defend, the match Simeone dreamed of.
Atlético´s offensiveness lasted for the first ten minutes, then Liverpool took over and dominated the whole game. Júrgen Klopp´s squad new the huge lock they were about to face, and their starting to move the ball from one side to the other, with the hope to find a minimum gap to penetrate Atlético´s defense and score a goal that would have increased significantly their possibilities to advance after the second leg, but that never happened. Despite a couple clear chances by Salah, Atlético´s outstanding defensive performance held Liverpool back from shooting to the goal all game long. 2 shots for Atlético, 0 for Liverpool, and 27 versus 73 percentof ball possession. Those statistics reflected what the game was like. Let them have the ball, might have thought El Cholo, we are more comfortable waiting backwards.
It is well known that Cholo´s squad make the most out of their habilities in these kind of games were the opponent is infinitely better. Simeone focuses on decreasing his team lacks and instead prioritizes the teamwork that usually gives them a good result. Even Morata was close to score the second through a couple of approximations, but the 1-0 stayed as the final score. The effective approach from the leader who has changed this club left Liverpool drought and arrived to the finish line they were looking for, a short lead, but a lead after all to die for at Anfield. Firmino was the only player from the Reds who made trouble to Atlético´s defense thanks to his constant moves to receive the ball and look for space to assist his teammates, but he was unable to shoot as well. Liverpool´s fullbacks Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, who Klopp tends to use offensively to add depth and superiority forward did not work either, as they could barely make any crosses thanks to Atlético´s help from the midfielders to not let them make any runs. Neither Liverpool´s midfield, formed by Fabinho, Wijnaldum and Henderson worked, since all of them had a discrete game thanks to El Cholo´s system. Starting with Atlético´s central defender Felipe, who is having an excellent season, Atlético stopped the best european team at this moment.
There is still a second leg at Anfield that will feel eternal fro Atlético but, without any doubt, Atlético have taken the first step to advance against all odds and today have more possibilities to beat Liverpool than yesterday. Simeone holds his last bullet thanks to the match he dreamed of.